Seneca community reflects on deadly EF-3 tornado nearly a year later

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OCONEE COUNTY, SC (WSPA)– A special celebration took place at Seneca Baptist Church on Monday night, as dozens remembered the EF-3 tornado that killed one person, and damaged many homes last year.

April 13, 2020, the storm left destruction for about 17 and a half miles long– across Oconee County.

“The path of the tornado came from the edge of Lake Hartwell, and continued across Oconee County entirely through the eastern shore line of Lake Hartwell, so it’s about 17 and a half miles. The heaviest of damage of course was just beyond the city limits of Seneca and inside city limits,” said Amanda Brock, Oconee County Administrator.

Seneca leaders said many in the county have bounced back since then.

“Recovery is continuing each and every day.  Our utility systems seem to be completely restored, minus some security lights and such.  Streets and Sanitation are still documenting damage to streets and sidewalks and coordinating with SCDOT to plan repairs to the state transportation infrastructure.  For the most of the recovery and progress was completed within the year following the event.  Our thoughts have now turned to the many property owners still wrestling with damage to their homes and property, with insurance reimbursements still being a major issue for many. I would say a large percentage of the homeowners have completed their recovery and are looking forward to a stormless future,” said Scott Moulder, Seneca’s City Administrator.

Last year’s tornado was a day to remember for people like Joe Steele, as remnants from the storm is still visible from his backyard.

“Now you just see mangled trees still. It’s just kind of sad. You know looking around and seeing,” Steele said. “The change in the land scape here. There were so many trees. You can see Seneca Baptist right there. You couldn’t see any of that from here. You couldn’t see any of the houses,” he said.

“Our continued efforts focus on debris removal, stream bed mitigation. That includes trees and debris that fell on moving bodies of water within the county, that has caused felt problems or may cause flooding downstream,” Brock said.

A more than $5 million waterway grant will help restore some of those areas.

“The $5 million grant for us to work on the stream bed mitigation, I think is an excellent reminder of the cost associated with and the opportunity the county keeps searching for, for us to continue restoration efforts,” Brock said.

Some areas like along Quincy Road, and Ploma Drive still have acres of down trees and homes in need of repair. County officials said the Utica Mill area is also still struggling. Some people said when storms come to their area, it gives them flashbacks.

An EF-1 tornado that touch down on last Saturday, was a reminder. It left damage at South Cove County Park.

“They saw a funnel cloud touch down at our front entrance and traveled across the front entrance, the tennis courts over to the camp ground, back out to the lake,” said Stephen Schutt, Superintendent at South Cove County Park.

Half of the Hermit Thrust Nature Trail is damaged.

“This whole trail, the first part has been the trees were blown over on top of it as you can see we have trees leaning over the trail,” Schutt said. “It’s kind of a flash back. My employees were here and not having any warning, it was kind real shocking to them,” Schutt said.

One employee was caught in the storm on Saturday.

“She was in the vehicle at the Bountyland that flipped over. As we can see in videos the tornado picked up her car and flipped her over,” Schutt said.

There may have been multiple tornadoes in less than a year, but this community is filled with people helping each other gain their strength as the work continues.

“I’ve seen the spirit of the resilience community members there come out and shine and every step forward is a step, and I think everyone is so thankful for where we are compared to where we could be,” Brock said.

“Last year’s storm and all of the other small storms we’ve had the community has really come together and have been outpouring of support for everybody. Even after this storm that happened after this weekend, we had people driving from all over to make sure we were okay,” Schutt said.

“Absolutely Seneca strong. That’s a very strong sentiment still I believe to this day, the whole community as a whole really rallied together and taking care of each other,” Steele said.

Seneca Baptist Church offered free food, live music, and activities for kids on Monday night, for its Tornado Anniversary Celebration. The church also honored community leaders who spent countless hours piecing the community back together. The church’s pastor said they also suffered damage, but they wanted people to come together to celebrate how far the community has come.

“That day will forever change our lives, and our neighbor’s lives and our community’s life. We will never be the same because of that day, but so we look  back with mourning. Man it was such devastation, but we also look at all the good things that God did over the last year and we can’t help but celebrate,” said Pastor Ryan Perry, of Seneca Baptist Church.

Ann Hope United Methodist Church, will have a celebration Tuesday night. The Salvation Army will give out food starting at 6 p.m., with the actual service beginning at 6:30 p.m.

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