Tornado rips through Jacksonville, ripping off roofs

A tornado, created in the wake of Tropical Storm Elsa, which hit Jacksonville’s Southside around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, caused significant damage to businesses, an apartment complex and a city park.

Trees fell over a block of Powers Avenue as the tornado swept over the Pinebrook apartment complex at 7500 Powers Ave.

It toppled light poles and damaged dugouts and a batting cage in Baker Skinner Park across the street. Then the storm passed over a section of Philips Highway near Bowdendale Avenue southeast of University Boulevard, knocking down trees and power lines as the roof ripped off businesses and deposited debris on the road before moving north into Georgia.

Meeting with reporters near that debris field on Philips Highway, Mayor Lenny Curry said city leaders had been planning for possible tornadoes in Elsa’s aftermath. Tragically, the storm was blamed for the death of a 25-year-old man. His car was hit by a falling tree branch on Roosevelt Boulevard just before the tornadoes started forming on the east side of the St. Johns River, the fire department said.

In the rain, Curry said now is the time to remember that the weather is unpredictable.

“It looked calm this morning. It looked calm this afternoon,” said Curry, along with police, JEA and firefighters. “… This is really early in the season. We’re just out of the July 4th holiday and we’ve had our first storm and unfortunately we had a fatality.”

Elsa’s influence: Resilient Tropical Storm Elsa kills 1 in Jacksonville, Florida, injures 10 in Southeast Georgia

Elsa elsewhere: Elsa hits N. Carolina as low pressure area forms over Texas

After Elsa: Use the last tropical storm to prepare for the next one

Elsa’s wrath

Tropical Storm Elsa first hit the Florida Keys on Tuesday, before pouring down the western side of the state. It briefly turned into a hurricane, then left damage and power outages statewide when it made landfall just before 11:30 a. To see also : Roofing Scam Nearly Bilks Glen Rock Homeowners out of $18K, Police Said.m. Wednesday with 65 mph winds in Taylor County.

As it headed north, it passed about 100 miles west of Jacksonville. But as it moved further north, the National Weather Service tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the tornado cell was first seen near Fruit Cove, moving north toward Mandarin. It issued a tornado warning for Jacksonville until 5 p.m.

“The cell is located along the St Johns River and is rapidly approaching I-95 and the Arlington area,” a tweet from the Weather Service warned just after 4 p.m. “Seek shelter immediately if you find yourself in the path of this storm!”

The Weather Service confirmed a tornado had descended as it moved north at 30 mph, issuing warnings for communities further north in Yulee and then the St. Marys area of ​​Georgia’s Camden County.

David Rothermel removed a piece of fallen tree that had smashed the windshield of his truck at the Pinebrook complex and said he was at his second-floor apartment at 4:30 p.m. when the tornado struck. He heard a tornado warning on the television, saying he was passing Baymeadows Road and heading toward Powers Avenue. Rothermel said he grabbed his cat from the porch and then heard the noise outside.

“We heard a train go by and then I saw two chairs get up and leave to the right. Then they came back from the left,” he said. “Then the tree hit and the balcony came down. Then there was destruction.”

The tornado dropped a tree into the porch above his and partially tore it off. Many more trees were uprooted or broken along the fence of the complex on Powers, with some destroying the metal fence. Even the complex’s entry sign was squashed when another pine tree toppled over on a nearby rooftop.

The tornado swept through the park’s multiple ball fields and parking lot, knocking over small light poles, uprooting trees, one of which fell on top of a dugout. City officials and members of the San Jose Athletic Association assessed the damage Thursday morning, stepping over fallen trees. All they wanted to say was that they were happy that the tornado hadn’t damaged the ball courts’ new LED lighting system.

The tornado’s path was still visible Thursday, pieces of roofs entangled in broken trees or in the median strip on Philips Highway. Debris was scattered on Stepp Avenue east of Philips as JEA crews worked to restore power there and on Bowdendale Avenue and Richard Street, where fallen lines and more pieces of roof were seen. At the end of Stepp, even pieces of roof were wrapped around the top of a cell phone tower as a crane was readied to remove it.

About an hour before the south side tornado, a falling tree branch hit a Dodge Challenger and a Toyota Highlander on the 4500 block of Roosevelt Boulevard in the Ortega area as Elsa moved west past the city. The Challenger driver, reportedly in his twenties, died instantly from the impact, police said.

“It’s terrible. It really is, it’s a freak accident. It’s an act of God. Whatever you want to call it,” said Lieutenant Rich Bouye. “It comes down and hits the car perfectly, and it will end this young man’s life.”

The branch also smashed into the windshield of the Toyota, but no one was injured inside, police said.

“We had a fatality from this storm because of a fallen tree,” Curry said. “… It was so unexpected and prayers and thoughts for the family and just an awful situation that that happened.”

The man’s death was the only fatality during the tropical storm’s impact on Florida on Wednesday, officials said.

A confirmed tornado also struck the RV park at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, injuring nine people when high winds toppled about a dozen trailers and RVs and threw one into a nearby lake, witnesses said.

dscanlan@jacksonville.com, (904 359-4549

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