By CHERIL VERNON
Strong winds ripped a portion of the roof off the Walmart Distribution Center No. 6005 in Palestine Tuesday evening, dumping most of the debris onto a nearby church parking lot, trees and power lines and scattering it across Crockett Road.
A shift of about 60 workers were inside the distribution center when the storm tore part of the roof off but no one was injured, according to an official at the scene.
“I’m not a meteorologist, but it appears to be a microburst or straight-line winds, not a tornado. The winds blew open two bay doors at Walmart Distribution Center and then went up and out — rolling the roof up,” Palestine Fire Department Capt. Kyle Betterton said while accessing damage at the warehouse and at Crockett Road Church of Christ Tuesday night. Most of the debris from the roof landed on the parking lot of the church.
At approximately 6:48 p.m., strong winds pushed large pieces of the metal roof, insulation and other debris off the distribution center property over the fence onto the church property, wrapping around a tree first before dispersing over the church grounds. Some debris ended up tangled in power lines along Crockett Road in front of the church, with some falling into the roadway and insulation dangled in trees.
Crockett Road Church of Christ’s building suffered some damage, including damage to a rail and a glass door which was broken as the debris hit the side of the building. The impact left broken glass throughout the church’s sanctuary and on the pews.
“Walmart Distribution Center managers got all of their people into a safe room really quickly,” Betterton said. “We did a ‘par count,’ checking to make sure there were no injuries and accounting for everyone that should have been on shift.”
Due to the damage to the roof, the distribution center was closed Tuesday night until damage assessment could be made.
“Walmart did an excellent job of keeping everybody safe,” Palestine Fire Chief Alan Wilcher said. “And the fire department, police and EMS did a great job of getting everything under control. The church was lucky not to have as much damage as they could have had.”
Crockett Road Church of Christ Minister Dan Manuel had just left the church office five minutes before the straight-line winds hit, going to his home located less than a mile from the church.
“I had just checked the weather before I left. When I got home, the electricity went off and the wind was really picking up. I laid down and all of a sudden there was a loud noise, like a train. Then it was peaceful,” Manuel said. “Then the TV came back on. I thought maybe it was a transformer until a church member called and asked if I had heard about the church.”
Arriving at the church, Manuel said it appeared that the roof debris from the distribution center was “wrapped around the building.” One utility pole was broken at the base in the church parking lot.
On the Herald-Press Facebook page Tuesday night, readers commented on the storm damage after viewing pictures of the damage.
Beverly Hester Owens wrote, “We were outside when the sheet metal must have hit the power lines. It looked like fireworks and you could hear the metal.”
Jeanne Bing commented, “We heard the sound of something ripping and looked outside and saw debris swirling around above our treetops. We were wondering what had happened.”
At least 850 power outages were reported Tuesday in the Palestine area during the storm, according to a Tyler television station.