Walter Brown was locking up his business just before 5 p.m. Monday and waiting until the top of the hour to leave. It’s a routine scores of businesses go through every day in Columbia.
But this time proved drastically different.
An employee, Bobby Duvall, called and said a tornado was coming their way from just across the Pearl River in Foxworth.
Brown and another employee hurried up and drove away, and a minute or so later the storm destroyed J-Flame Kustoms.
“That’s scary thinking about,” Brown said as he looked over the debris Monday night. “I called Bobby back and I told him to tell whoever called him to thank him because he possibly saved our life.”
His is one of many terrifying stories that Columbians are telling following Monday’s tornado outbreak. J-Flame Kustoms was one of three businesses on Old Foxworth Road just north of U.S. that were in ruins after the storm along with Beal’s Collision Center and Clearwater Pools.
Millard Van, 92, was sitting inside the apartment where he lives behind Clearwater Pools when the tornado hit.
“It was something. It just went everywhere,” he said as he sat wrapped in a blanket inside a truck near the scene Monday night. “You couldn’t tell because it was scattered, every mirror, everything topside. The whole top went off, so you can imagine what was left after the wind got through.”
Van said Hurricane Camille in 1969 also took the roof off his building.
Ken Dillon, owner of the pool supply company who rented the space from Van, was at home when his daughter called him and he said his first thought was checking on his elderly landlord.
“We can do something about this,” Dillon said, pointing to where his company had stood an hour earlier. “It’s just a thing.”
The devastation was evident Monday night at Beal’s Collision where three people were injured along with buildings flattened and pieces of roofing scattered. But personal care was equally evident as a human chain formed to remove items from the business into a truck before a round of heavy rains came a few hours after the tornado.
The tornado continued along South High Avenue, causing damages to roofs and awnings, and then another tornado split off it and leaped over to near the Columbia-Marion County Public Library. Branch Director Mona Swayze said the storm was pulling the library’s doors open and that workers brought people who were standing outside in before it hit.
Curiously, the library’s power stayed on despite light poles laying in the street in front of it and serious damage inside.
On nearby Alberta Avenue a large tree blocked the road Monday night. A resident said he was outside when the tornado came through and said it didn’t actually touch down there but was low to the ground, about 20 feet up.
On Tuesday morning, Steve Graham stood outside the home he shares with his mother at 803 Beauvoir Ave. surveying the damage caused by a huge tree that crashed through the structure. Some men were there looking at how to remove the tree.
“The house is still standing, but by the time they get it out, I don’t know if it will be,” Graham said before heading inside to work on the recovery.