A mild, sunny day, typical of this un-wintry winter, gave way to violent thunderstorms Wednesday evening that left thousands of Laurens County residents without electricity and some with damaged property.
A massive storm front, which included heavy winds, rain and hail in some areas, rolled through the county after 6 p.m.
That’s when Kenneth and Denise Pritchard of Chestnut Street, Laurens, were preparing to leave for Wednesday night church services when the storm hit, and as their daughter, Bethany, tried to get their dog into the house, Denise was trying to keep the hail and water from pouring in through their French doors.
That’s when at least one of the trees fell alongside their home toward the street.
“We think the trees must have fallen at the same time because we only heard one bang and we didn’t know there were two until my husband went out later with a flashlight,” she said.
The couple’s older son had just left the kitchen, the area where the closest tree enveloped the roofline of the house, and the fact that none of their family of five were injured puts things into perspective.
“It was God protecting us,” Pritchard said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Once the worst of the danger was over, rain was still coming in the back of the house so a friend came over and helped tarp the roof, and an off-duty Laurens police officer came along to help Kenneth get the debris off the street.
Her daughter, Bethany, said after a night at their grandmother’s, they came out early Thursday morning to see the damage and found some strange surprises.
“The flag was still fine on the front porch,” Bethany said, “and the back door is just standing there perfect,” in spite of the damage to the roof above it.
Dale Satterfield, director of Public works in Clinton, said the storm was much worse in the Western part of the county, which allowed Clinton crews to assist the Laurens Commission of Public Works crews.
“We only had pea-size hail in Clinton, where Laurens and Hickory Tavern had golf-ball size,” Satterfield said. Even though Clinton crews are somewhat short-staffed, they were able to break into a couple of crews and assist Laurens until about 1 a.m. when they were called back for more calls in Clinton. “Once we got that taken care of we sent them back to Laurens.”
The Laurens Fire Department had a busy night due to the storm, reportedly responding to more than a dozen calls.
Laurens County EMS Director Matt Pennington said his crews responded to 17 calls overnight, but the bulk of them came between 7:30-9:30 p.m.
“All of our trucks were out during that timeframe,” Pennington said, noting that there were no major injuries reported.
Those calls included a multi-car accident at Highway 221 and East Main Street in Laurens, which resulted in the closure of West Main Street within the Historic Public Square.
Pennington said his agency also responded to calls from elderly and disabled people due to power outages throughout the county.
Linemen with Laurens Commission of Public Works were called out by 8 p.m., and many were still working to replace lines Thursday morning, said CPW General Manager John Young.
Young said as many as 1,500 Laurens CPW customers were without power between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., with a “few pockets” of customers still awaiting restoration Thursday morning.
Another 2,700 Laurens Electric Customers in the county were without power, joining 2,500 of the utility’s customers in Greenville County and another 1,500 in Spartanburg County.
All together, about 12 percent of Laurens Electric’s 55,000 customers were without power at some point during the storm.
The bulk of those without Laurens Electric power in Laurens County were between Laurens and the Waterloo area, said Laurens Electric spokesman Jim Donahoo.
“We had a bunch of lines down from trees,” Donahoo said. “It was that way pretty much all over the system. It was a full-blown all-crews-on-deck situation. They were working until everything was restored.”
Like Laurens CPW, nearly all Laurens Electric customers had power restored by early Thursday morning.
“We work hard, but we know we’re only good as our next storm,” Donahoo said of his crew’s efforts during the outages. “We’re going to keep working and be prepared for the next storm coming down the pike.”