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Elsa’s first local strike: Tornado touches down in Columbia County

‘It was like a freight train’: Woman saw tree uprooted by tornado miss her home by inches

Damage in Baker and Columbia County
Damage in Baker and Columbia County

COLUMBIA, Fla. – When tornado warnings for areas including Columbia County early Wednesday expired by 7:30 a.m., residents of one Columbia County homeowner came out to find their deck and fence blown away, a large tree down and several trees snapped.

The back yard of one home on Raven Lane in Columbia City was torn up, although their home is largely intact.

The National Weather Service estimates an EF-0 tornado with winds of 75 mph caused the damage. It left a path about 100 yards wide and was on the ground for about a mile.

The tornado was reported near SR-47, where toppled pine trees and debris could be seen all along the roadway. 

A stream was left in Phyllis Marvel’s yard, but she said she’s thankful because a tree that uprooted missed her home by inches.

“It was around 7 o’clock. It was like a freight train. It shook my whole trailer,” Marvel said, describing the passing tornado. “I am counting my blessings, and my car, too. It’s OK, and all the trees are right next to it. I am really blessed.”

Marvel admitted it was a frightening experience.

“(The) road was re-opened fairly quickly. That’s the most severe I have heard thus far,” said Steven Khachigan with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Throughout the day, areas east of Tropical Storm Elsa remained under the threat of tornadoes. Most of Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia were also under Tropical Storm Warnings or Watches and Flood Warnings.

The consistent rain stopped around 4 p.m. and residents began to focus on cleanup, restoring power and hoping no additional rain falls in the area because the ground is saturated.

Crews work to repair power lines in Columbia County
Crews work to repair power lines in Columbia County

MORE ONLINE: Weather alerts & warnings | Impacts for NE Florida and SE Georgia | What to expect where you live | Interactive tropics tracking map

Crews could be seen out repairing downed power lines around Columbia County. And caravans of power crews were scene staging at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.

In Lake City, a tree fell on a home, causing damage to the roof that could be seen in a photo shared on Facebook with News4Jax.

Parker Blankenship in Lake City shared this photo on Facebook of a tree that landed on a house as Tropical Storm Elsa passed through. (Photo provided)

Also in Lake City a woman and her husband, who are both disabled, said they are trapped in their unit at the Windsong Apartments after the parking lot flooded with close to a foot of water.

“I am afraid,” said the woman, who is on oxygen and needs a wheelchair. “There’s a lot of medication in my apartment I have to take. It’s not like I can pack up and be organized and go anywhere.”

She said she’s unable to get to her car.

“My wheelchair is not an ATV -- can’t cross the sandbags,” she said.

Columbia County response

County officials said Columbia County residents should expect the heaviest Elsa impacts between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Rainfall in Columbia County was estimated to be between 4 to 6 inches and tropical storm force wind gusts (55-60 mph) were anticipated at various times throughout the day. Some areas may have experienced locally heavier amounts of rain.

As of 3 p.m., the county had closed its Citizens Information Center, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the three shelters it had opened for those with special needs.

The following government office will be open tomorrow.

  • Columbia County Board of County Commissioners
  • Columbia County Courts
  • Columbia County Clerk of Courts
  • Columbia County Tax Collector
  • Columbia County Property Appraiser
  • Columbia County Supervisor of Elections
  • City of Lake City

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.

An Emmy-nominated TV reporter and weekend anchor.