Updated: Storm collapses roof at Walmart, damages shopping center

Published 11:22 pm Thursday, August 6, 2015

An apparent tornado damaged the Troy Walmart Thursday evening. Photo courtesy Eric Bagents

An apparent tornado damaged the Troy Walmart Thursday evening. Photo courtesy Eric Bagents

An apparent tornado hit the Troy Walmart  on U.S. 231 South around 10:40 p.m. Thursday, partially collapsing the roof and sending shoppers scurrying for shelter.

“I was looking for somewhere to go,” said Eric Bagents of Rutledge, who was shopping in the electronics department when the storm hit. “I just got low … I was heading to the bathroom because it’s walled up, but I stopped before I realized that’s what I needed to do.”

The storm hit quickly on Thursday evening and shortly after reports of damage at the store a tornado warning was issued for Pike County. Emergency officials were on the scene within minutes of the report to assess the damage. Initial reports indicated no serious injuries, according to Troy Fire Department Chief Thomas Outlaw.

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Initial reports indicated significant damage to the Walmart store, the outlying Hibbetts store, and some minor damage to the Flash Market, located across U.S. 231. Debris from the buildings was scattered throughout the parking lots and nearby areas.

Employee Sarah Brookins said the storm caught everyone by surprise. “We heard a loud noise,” she said. “All of a sudden the wind was blowing in the store. We saw dust blowing through the door.”

The Hibbett Sports store received heavy damage in the storm.

The Hibbett Sports store received heavy damage in the storm.

She said the storm started from the home and pharmacy departments and headed to the other end of the store, apparently moving southward.

“I was outside the door,” said Lamont Jackson, another employee who was scheduled to begin his shift at 11 p.m. “He had locked the door. I was texting on my phone. It struck and the wind started blowing (so) I got into the store.

“I was holding onto the carts … I was standing there up against the wall.”

As of 11:45 p.m., police said all gas and power would be turned off in the shopping center as a precaution. “The gas company had been notified and is coming along with other utilities,” said Troy Police Chief Jimmy Ennis. “We just ask people if they would to stay out of this area. There is a lot of damage, as you can tell.”

Ennis said reports indicated only “walking injuries” although a traffic accident in front of the  nearby Huddle House restaurant prompted the call for an ambulance.

Pike County EMA Director Jeanna Barnes said she had received no reports of damage in Brundidge.

She said the National Weather Service would have a team on the scene at sunrise and a preliminary report on the storm could be available by noon Friday.

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves said he was thankful no one was seriously injured in the storm. “We’re just extremely blessed,” he said. “You’ve seen the damage inside Walmart so there is a great deal to do here at Hibbets and the surrounding area …

“We were very fortunate that at another point in time this store and parking lot could have been completely filled with people. We are very blessed that it was not much much worse.”

Reeves said he also appreciated the efforts of the first-responders. “Our fire, police, utilities, EMA, EMS and Troy utilities … it’s everyone coming together at a time like this that you really appreciate working hard to keep everyone safe.”