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Twister strikes in southern part of county Wednesday

Fierce winds, rain and hail raged through the southern part of Halifax County as a storm struck in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, downing trees, snapping power lines and damaging buildings and other structures in its path.

Officials at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg confirmed Thursday afternoon the storm that struck Halifax County was an EF2 tornado. An EF2 tornado, according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale, packs winds ranging from 111 to 135 mph.

Trees and other debris blocked a number of roads in the Virgilina area of the county, and the area around Shady Grove Church Road, Lowery Road, North Fork Church Road, Highway 96 and areas along Huell Matthews Highway were especially hard hit by the tornado-like winds that accompanied the early morning storm.

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) was forced to close several roads due to the impassable conditions. VDOT crews worked throughout the day Wednesday cutting limbs from fallen trees and clearing debris from a number of county roads. North Fork Church Road was closed until approximately 4:30 Wednesday afternoon.

Large, stately century-old and older trees fell all around Shady Grove United Methodist Church, but the church building was largely spared, with only limbs of a fallen tree landing on the fire escape.

“This will permanently alter the landscape at Shady Grove Methodist,” said church pastor, the Rev. George Gorman. “But I am thankful the storm caused no significant damage to the church itself.”

Several county residents had extensive damage to their property, including roof damage, broken glass, destroyed or damaged outbuildings and uprooted or broken trees.

A large number of residents lost power due to the high winds, fallen trees and downed power lines. A total of 350 Dominion Virginia Power customers were without power due to the storm, according to Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien.

“Crews worked to restore power throughout the day Wednesday, and by late in the afternoon only 17 customers remained without power,” said Neddenien. “Power was restored to those customers Wednesday night.”

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) customers were especially hit hard by the storm, according to company officials.

“We had 629 customers out,” said Brian Mosier, MEC vice-president of business development. “All but 50 had their power restored by Wednesday night, and those were restored Thursday.”

Mosier said broken power poles accounted for a number of the cooperative’s outages.

“At last count we had 14 broken poles, which made for a really tough change-out,” he explained. “Getting through the trees to replace the poles was the big holdup,” he added.

Mosier said they needed extra help in replacing the broken poles and restoring power to those MEC customers who were affected by the storm. “We brought in crews from all three of our districts to the site to get power back on for our customers,” Mosier said. “They worked through the night Wednesday on our outages.”

Halifax County Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders said 13 homes sustained damage from the storm, most minor damage. He said the path of destruction runs from the intersection of Highway 501 and Route 96 northeast to North Fork Church Road.

Saunders also said a man, later identified by the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office as 49-year-old Barry McLaughlin, was injured Wednesday afternoon when he went to a mobile home that had been heavily damaged looking for his guns that were in a gun cabinet. While attempting to retrieve the guns, Saunders said one went off striking McLaughlin in the chest. Duke Life Flight airlifted the wounded man to the Duke University Medical Center.

There was no update on McLaughlin’s condition as of press time Thursday.