t started at a baseball field, the storm that will eventually make its way into the Vinton history books.
Early Sunday morning, approximately 36 hours before the Vinton-Shellsburg Vikings and Marion Indians were scheduled to arrive to settle the question of who would be District Champion, the wind showed up.
Whether it was a tornado, wind shear, Derecho or some other natural storm phenomenon, it began by flattening the chain link fence at the VS ball field, and hurling the “350” sign east into the yard of Doug and Susan Martens. It twisted the scoreboard like a drunk crumpling a beer can and flattened the pole that lifted two rows of lights high above the left field fence.
Unlike the historic derecho that devastated a much bigger area five years and six days earlier, this storm ignored the year-old football/soccer field, spreading debris but not damaging anything at the Karr complex.
Then it moved east.
Just across the creek from left field, the wind ripped the roof off an apartment building managed by Imperial Apartments. It also took the entire top off the east wall, leaving a damage of a living room and kitchen completely visible from hundreds of feet away.
Then it blew east, across a sidewalk before ripping more than half roof off another similarly-sized apartment building. It also blew a large hole in the southwest corner of the lower level of this building, and an even larger one in the northwest corner, just under where the roof would end up. The four-stall garage next to this building also sustained damage, much of caused by the garage’s role as a landing site for apartment roofing.
The wind blew on, revisiting another of its targets: The large white Abbe Center building with a large blue tin roof.
“In 2011, it peeled off all of the metal,” said Martens, as he sat outside late Sunday afternoon, watching VMEU crews replace the poles and electrical grid that would restore the electricity his house had been without for 12 hours.
This time, in addition to tearing away some of the blue sheet metal, the wind damaged the wooden structure that connected the pitched roof to its historic round one.
While heading toward 2nd Avenue, the storm littered everything it could from the first two buildings in the creek and yards in its path. The Martens reported seeing everything from plastic storage bins to a pile of cigarette butts dumped in their yard.
The wind passed over the Martens’ house, leaving the roof intact. Doug said his decision after the 2011 storm, to replace his asphalt shingles for a more expensive, 130 mph wind-rated metal roof was the right decision. His insurance company would agree, he said. The Martens did have some wind damage to the walls of their house; Doug reported one wall that seemed bowed a little.
Recovering from a recent rotator cuff surgery, Doug said he was thankful for his in-laws and friends for helping clean up the mess the storm left in his yard.
Then the wind crossed 2nd Avenue, bending the rails of the bridge that spans the creek.
Three more apartment buildings stood in its path, the two matching complexes owned by Brian Hamling and the large brick Imperial Apartments that housed 40 families.
The most northern of Hamling’s buildings was spared any damage, but the storm attacked the southern one in two ways. The wind simultaneously ripped off the roof and played darts with 2 x 4s, hurling several into the south side of the building. Some of those darts veered north to the Benton County Fairgrounds, smashing into the front window of a Sam’s Amusements semi. Sam’s Amusements – from a state well-acquainted with tornadoes, Oklahoma – began serving the Benton County Fair that year; some of its vehicles were also damaged in 2011.
The storm displayed a strong sense of irony with another plank “dart” toss, as one long board smashed through the exterior wall of the 4-H building, and pierced the area of an interior wall where someone had previously set up a display with photos of storm damage entitled “Community Service Aiding in Disaster Relief.”
Unlike the 2011 storm – which came on a Monday morning as fair organizers were preparing for a fair that would open two days later – this one did little damage to the fairgrounds, and left unmolested the campground full people. It did result in a loss of electricity to most facilities, and shortened Sunday’s schedule. The worst damage at the Fairgrounds this year was from boards blown from other structures, which damaged the wall and roof of the 4-H building and broke windows of one of an enclosed tractor cab.
The worst damage of the day came next, as the wind destroyed the roof of the entire Imperial Apartments building, as well as several apartments. Some residents reported being in bed and seeing their ceilings begin to move just before collapsing.
“It was freaky,” said Amanda Engelking, using the same simile to describe the noise of the storm that many others would use on Sunday: “It sounded like a freight train.”
Again displaying a cruel sense of irony, the storm tore off roofs and ceilings, but left clothes unbothered hanging in closets. However most of the upper levels are now exposed to the elements, which included more rain and storms that passed through the Vinton area early Monday morning.
Imperial Apartment managers, by the end of the day on Sunday, would hire security guards to keep people, including tenants, out. The company will have structural engineers evaluate the complex before deciding whether it can rebuild or must tear it down.
Vinton firemen arriving early Sunday morning discovered that a falling ceiling had smashed a bed in one apartment, but could not locate the occupant. Finally, they learned she had been out of town at the time. Several residents were taken to Virginia Gay Hospital, which had alerted its medical staff and nurses. But only minor injuries were reported.
The storm traveled yet further east, flattening the tall tower used to transmit some Internet signals to local residents, and tossing but leaving mostly-intact the utility shed nearby. It also damaged the fields where Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School 7th- and 8th-grade girls play softball in the spring and summer.
The storm skipped past the Tilford Elementary, spreading debris but causing no major damage to the school or its playground area. The storm also left virtually untouched the Thole field, where VS high school girls play softball.
Not happy with destroying two baseball fields, the wind continued next to the Marvin Lindsey complex, causing damage to parts of each field and some fences. On the main baseball field, the small shed just past the right field fence was flattened, parts of it tossed into the netting of the batting cage. On the opposite side, past the left field foul line, the winds damaged one dugout in the field where young children play, and knocked over the playground equipment. In between, however, the large barn-shaped concession stand/bathroom/storage building behind home plate appeared untouched by any damage.
The final target of the 2016 Wind Storm was Bascom’s Addition, where several homes – including many damaged in 2011 – again lost roofs or sustained other damage. Owners experienced a very wide variety of levels of damage, from virtually none in some houses to completely destroying the roofs of others.
And everything mentioned above happened in less than one minute – perhaps even as little as 15 seconds.
East of Vinton, more than a mile away from some of the damaged buildings, a complete 4′ by 8′ sheet of plywood, covered with roofing materials, came to rest in the ditch along 25th Avenue Trail.
Steve and Chris Brewer live in that area; Steve went outside to discover “insulation, metal, plywood and stuff all over our yard and road,” said Chris.
Steve checked all of his buildings, and everything was fine.
“Someone got hit by a tornado last night. We are praying for their safety this morning,” Chris wrote on her Facebook wall.
This Monday morning – the day after the storm – experts from the National Weather Service plan to review the damage and determine what kind of storm – or tornado – made Vinton history on Sunday, July 17.