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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Tropical storm-force winds cause big damage


Last updated 5/9/2023 at 7:24pm

Straight-line winds of tropical force blew across Orange County during a thunderstorm Monday afternoon. Though trees and power poles were knocked down in many areas, the worst hit places were Pinehurst and the downtown Orange area. A large metal room from an alley parking lot behind Green Avenue businesses blew yards away into Elm Avenue, leading the city to close the street. Widespread power outages led to the West Orange-Cove and Orangefield school districts, along with LSCO, to cancel classes.

A strong thunderstorm bringing tropical storm-force winds, blinding rain, and hailstones up to an inch raced across Orange County Monday afternoon causing widespread outages damages.

Gusts of up to 67 mph were recorded in downtown Orange, according to meteorologist Stacey Densen with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles. Videos show straight line winds of almost the same force continually blowing from the Orange County Courthouse area.

Though a tornado warning was issued, no evidence of a tornado was found Wednesday.

A block away from the courthouse on the Sabine River, several empty tanker barges were torn from their moors along Levingston Island where they were berthed at a shipyard. The barges crashed into the riverbank at the city's Riverfront Pavilion and Boardwalk.

Jody Chesson, who rode out the storm in a building at the Heritage House Museum complex a block west on Division Avenue said some of the barges appeared to be on top of each other.

Power outages across the county led to schools closing Tuesday in Orangefield and West Orange-Cove districts, along with LSCO. The Salvation Army along with some stores had to close because of no electricity. The Stark Cultural Venues also closed.

Meteorologist Densen said it appears the storm was straight-line winds with no sign of a tornado being found.

Orange County Emergency Management Director Joel Ardoin also said the strong winds were not from tornadoes. However, several people reported twisters coming from the clouds. Ardoin said small twisters may have caused some of the damage.

The storm hit about the time industries, schools, and businesses begin to close. Flooded streets were widespread with normally short drives taking an hour or more. Besides the flooded roadways, drivers also had to deal with the hard-falling rain that made everything gray like a thick fog.

Trees fell across roads and houses in many neighborhoods across the county. Metal roofs blew yards away. Windows were blown out.

A power pole broke off and fell across FM 408 in Orangefield, bringing down live wires and closing the road into Tuesday morning.

Hair & Co. Salon on Strickland Drive in Pinehurst had the metal roof ripped off with part of it landing in the Family Dollar parking lot across the street. Kay's Salon on MacArthur Drive also had a metal roof blown off along with part of the siding.

Roberts Ford dealership on Green Avenue at 16th Street in Orange had a large light pole break off and fall into a new SUV.

A large piece of metal covering an alley parking lot for businesses along Green Avenue blew off and landed in Ninth Street, to the west side of the historic First Presbyterian Church. The Reverend Bobby Daniel reported large tree limbs down, along with part of an iron fence at the church's columbarium.

At Heritage House on Division Avenue west of the courthouse, the 1902 Sims House, rain blew through the window sills on the west side of the building. Water got into every room on that side.

The museum's board was set to have a meeting in the evening. Board president Adam Conrad and treasurer Jody Chesson came early to help director Charlotte Alford prepare for the meeting. The three road out the storm in the Williams Building in back of the main house. The said the house shook.

The National Weather Service in Lake Charles reported a wind gust of 67 mph in downtown Orange along with the strong straight winds. The storm blew a number of empty tanker barges in the Sabine River from their moorings on Levingston Island, causing them to run into the city's Riverfront Pavilion and Boardwalk. The U.S. Coast Guard was investigating Tuesday and working with the shipyard that was berthing the barges.

They were able to clean up the water in the historic house quickly. Dryers and dehumidifiers were brought in Tuesday. The museum recently reopened after repairing damages from two hurricanes.

Sherry Combs, who lives in the nearby Old Orange Historic District, reported the winds blew out a window at her house, sending rain into her baby grand piano.

Letasha Heid took a video of the storm from her window at the Orange County Sheriff's Office. The video includes the wails of the winds along with hail pelting the window. By Monday afternoon, the video on her Facebook page had more than 10,000 views.

The Orange County airport gauge had 1.5 inches of rain within an hour, but the strong, straight winds could have kept some of rains out of the gauge. Downtown Orange residents reported four inches of rain in their home gauges. The Sabine River Authority gauge on Pier Road near downtown Orange had 2.75 inches falling.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the county as storms and rain moved through Tuesday with more forecast for Wednesday.

Emergency Management Director Ardoin said the U.S. Coast Guard was investigating the barge situation on the river and working with the shipyard to move and secure them.


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