Tallahassee tornado live updates: Woman killed; 80,000 without power amid widespread damage

by 24USATVMay 10, 2024, 11:01 p.m. 20
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A line of severe thunderstorms and a possible tornado roared through Tallahassee Friday morning leaving a large swath of damage – downed trees, tangled power lines and buildings with their roofs sheered off.

The violent storms crashed into the city amid the rush to get high school students to school. Schools across the city were subsequently closed and a woman was tragically killed when a tree crashed into her home.

Facing the kind of damage and numbers that accompany hurricanes, the City of Tallahassee expects it will take "some time" to get an estimated 80,000 people reconnected to the power grid.

Send photos of damage with captions and credit to [email protected]. Here are the latest updates from around the city from our team of journalists.

Road closures throughout city and county persist; still more than 100 roads blocked

Many roads were still closed due to fallen trees even hours after the storm. Here's the latest rundown of major roads still closed as of 5 p.m.

The city of Tallahassee reports that crews have cleared 83 blocked roads and are working to clear 125 roads that are still reportedly blocked.

Hearing and seeing the 'freight train' go through Indian Head

With twisted pines crisscrossing the roadways, sidewalks and laying across homes, the Indianhead neighborhood was unrecognizable following Friday morning’s devastating storm.

Residents spent their day picking up branches, cutting limbs with chainsaws and clearing a path from their front doors to the street.

The sounds of the storm are something many will never forget. Residents hunkered down in interior hallways and bathrooms as they prepared for the worst in the early morning hours.

“Having been in Indianhead for 40 years, and a Florida native, I had always heard of tornadoes and the freight train noise that they make, but I had never experienced it. Well, now I have experienced it,” said Sherry Mills, an Indianhead resident.

Her son and small grandson just happened to be staying over at her house the night before. “We all ran to the bathroom with no windows, it was unbelievable. The worst of it was only about five minutes, but it was terribly frightening.”

The cleanup of the neighborhood with the massive green and brown camouflaged roads will likely take days before residents see some sense of normalcy.

Video of Railroad Square from above shows scope of damage

The beloved arts district of Railroad Square was one of the hardest hit areas of Tallahassee, along with Indianhead Acres, Myers Park and College Town.

See the scope of the damage from above in drone footage and hear from one of the business owner's.

"It's terrible," she said. "One of the galleries is completely gone, smashed down to the ground. Inside the shop, there's water and glass everywhere, the roof is just peeled back.”

Read the full story and see the video here.

First of power crew reinforcements arrive in Tallahassee, but full restoration could take days

To all the powerless of Tallahassee, help has arrived.

While the number of power outages hasn't budged much since the deadly storm ravaged the capital city, crews have been working for hours to fix more than 100 snapped power poles and damaged feeder lines, which provide power through 11 different substations.

"The first wave of more than 215 personnel from 20 utilities in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina has arrived to assist city crews as they work to repair the electric system from extensive damage.

Crews have told customers in the dark that the restoration may take days. City officials expect the work to restore power will go through the weekend.

City spokesperson Alison Faris said the extent of the damage has made it hard-going today because crews are focused on fixing the transmission infrastructure before they can start working on the distribution of power that energizes homes and businesses.

"Transmission first and then we restore circuits which impacts distribution," Faris told the Democrat. "All hands are on the transmission. We should start seeing some circuits repaired here shortly."

That can lead to entire sections of neighborhoods being powered up.

At 6 p.m., Faris said 85 percent of the work to the transmission line is complete. Crews are now shifting to fixes that can power up customers in bulk.

As the scope of the damage comes into focus, the Red Cross is mobilizing to help the many residents struggling in the powerful storm's aftermath.

"A significant amount of damage has been reported in the Tallahassee area," the Red Cross wrote on Facebook. "If you need a safe place to go, visit us at our Reception Center at 1115 Easterwood Dr, Tallahassee, FL 32311.

"If you have you have sustained damage and need emergency assistance, please call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to let us know."

About 9 hours after a storm cut a path of destruction through Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for Tallahassee and 12 north Florida counties. Counties included in the executive order are: Baker, Columbia, Gadsden, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor, and Wakulla counties.

"Numerous tornadoes and strong wind gusts caused significant damage to critical state infrastructure, including wind and tree fall damage to residences, businesses, powerlines, and other infrastructure across North Florida," the governor's executive order states.

Storm packing 80 to 100 mph as National Weather Service assesses path of three possible Tallahassee tornadoes

We are getting our first look at the winds thatleft behind what the city is calling a "trail of destruction." According to an emailed briefing from the City of Tallahassee, the storm packed between 80 and 100 mph winds.

"The National Weather Service is assessing paths of three possible tornadoes," a city spokesperson wrote in an online briefing.

The briefing also gave an update on power outages, which have only gotten worse since the storm blew through and knocked 70,000 residents and businesses into the dark.

"Assessment of the electric grid shows severe damage to transmission lines, impacting 11 substations. Prolonged outages are anticipated as the grid is rebuilt and repaired. Crews are actively working. Mutual aid crews from 10 utilities, including from Alabama and Louisiana, are arriving to assist with restoration efforts. Additional calls for mutual aid have been requested from in-state and regional utilities. Damage assessment crews are taking an inventory of the damage, including broken pole counts. Early estimates indicate more than 100 poles are broken. Crews will work around the clock until service is restored. More than half of the City’s electric customers are without service due to impacts, totaling over 80,000 power outages."

The Weatherstem station at FAMU recorded an 84 mph gust and Kleman Plaza recorder clocked a punishing gust of 71 mph.

To report service issues, please use the City’s free DigiTally app or call 850-891-4968. Call wait times are longer than usual.

Storm emergency response prompts cancellations of Press the Chest and Southern Shakespeare's Friday festival

Southern Shakespeare Company has canceled its Friday performance of “The Winter’s Tale” after damage from Friday morning’s severe storm. Additional performances of the Mother’s Day weekend Shakespeare Festival are being evaluated. Posted on their website Friday:

“Due to extreme damage to our set and equipment by the storms, this Friday’s festival programming at Cascades Park is cancelled. Please stay tuned about our Saturday and Sunday performances as well as volunteer clean-up opportunities.”

Updates will be provided at southernshakespearefestival.org.

Due to the ongoing emergency response to today's severe weather, Leon County Press the Chest, originally scheduled for Saturday, May 11, 2024, was also canceled. Leon County teams are actively responding to emergency calls, downed trees, clearing roads, assessing buildings, and supporting all response and recovery operations.

The scene of the tragedy off Aenon Park Road

At around 7:30 a.m., a woman believed to be 47 was killed after a tree fell on a trailer on Aenon Lane, off of Aenon Church Road, according to Shonda Knight, a spokesperson for LCSO. A sheriff’s deputy who was in the area was waved down by a resident and alerted to a fallen tree and a woman trapped under it. EMS and the Tallahassee Fire Department responded to the call.

ParkwayWrecker Service was also called to lift the tree off of the home, Knight said.

The woman’s significant other was able to get out of the house with minor injuries.

At the scene, sheriff's deputies and victims were helping the grieving family.

Tallahassee calls on more neighboring utilities to help

With more than half of Tallahassee's power grid off line, Tallahassee is beefing up its mutual aid call. A city spokesperson said they now have 10 different utilities from neighboring states and other Florida cities descending on Tallahassee to help reconnect customers.

The Leon County Sheriff's Office has announced that a woman was killed during the storm.

"We regret to inform that deputies are working a storm related fatality in the area of Aenon Church Rd," the Leon County Sheriff's Office announced. "An adult female is deceased due to a tree falling on the family’s home."

Superintendent Rocky Hanna: 'The timing couldn't have been worse'

After a white-knuckle start to the school day in which the district tried to keep schools open, Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna took to X to speak directly to parents.

Hann said the district felt "reassured" by forecasters last night that the capital city would be spared the brunt of the storm.

"The timing couldn't have been worst," Hanna said. "Unfortunately right before 7 a.m., the alarms went off and we held our busses moved our kids into safety in the hallways."

The school district had hoped to open on a case-by-case basis and even opened elementary schools, but the extent of the damage forced them to change course.

"There were just too many logistical obstacles to overcome," Hanna said.

He told parents crews would be working over the weekend to ensure schools could be open Monday.

"Than you for your patience and your understanding," he said. "This was completely unexpected by everyone in our community, but the main thing is no one was hurt."

Severe storms and a suspected tornado tore the roof off of the old Tallahassee railway station, now the welcome and visitor information center of VisitTallahassee.

Friday morning, pink insulation littered the ground outside of the building and on the inside. Water dripped onto the seats of All Saints Cinema, and pieces of wood with embedded nails were scattered in the parking lot.

The station sits next to Railroad Square, which was also damaged during the storm. Twisted sheet metal from the roofs of Railroad Square’s buildings had blown over to College Town and littered the student housing complexes.

The human toll of the storm: 'Thank God my baby wasn't in there'

Kathy Bryant woke up early Friday morning for her work shift at Burger King. Her goal was to leave before the severe weather storm hit.

"I can't believe this," Bryant said while wiping her tears. "What they gonna do about this."

She returned to her home on Wailes Street near Railroad Square to a gaping hole. Her kitchen and living room space are now filled with debris and the trunk of a large pine tree that once sat outside her home.

"Thank God my baby wasn't in here," she said of her granddaughter who occasionally stays with her overnight.

Several of her neighbors gathered to help her collect her belongings including family photos and her insulin, which was trapped in what used to be her kitchen.

She lived in the house for four years. Now she's unsure of what she will do.

Dick Howser Stadium took on damage from a line of severe thunderstorms and a possible tornado Friday morning.

The storm hit around the time when parents started taking their high school students to school. It has forced the closure of the campus as FSU and caused damage throughout the state. Dick Howser Stadium ― the home for FSU baseball ― was among the structures in the path of the violent storm.

The Indianhead neighborhood, as usual during severe weather, was hard hit. Fallen trees appear to be blocking roads every 50 yards. One neighbor reported that a treetop near his house appeared to have snapped off, was shorn of branches and driven into the ground “like a pencil.”

Still other trees had their tops snipped off, apparently by strong winds, leaving jagged edges of bare wood. Power lines and supporting cables were downed and lying on the ground like a mess of twist ties. A couple of residents could be seen trying to pull a limb off a roof.

With school canceled, neighborhood kids had nothing else to do but go outside, with some dragging large branches out of the streets. One mom could be heard hollering, “Don’t go too far.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis took to X to thank responders and pledge the state's support in the recovery ahead.

"Following the severe weather that impacted North Florida this morning, I have directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to work with local officials and do everything possible to return life to normalcy for our residents as quickly as possible," he wrote. "Thank you to the first responders and utility workers who are working on power and roadway restoration. Stay safe and heed instructions from @FLSERT and local authorities."

About half of Tallahassee is in the dark as crews deal with rain, wind to reconnect the city

City of Tallahassee crews are dealing with another round of rain and wind as they begin the monumental task of reconnecting almost 70,000 customers who are without power.

"With possible tornadic activity in Tallahassee, early assessments of the electric grid show severe damage to transmission lines, impacting 11 substations," the city posted on X. "Restoration will possibly take through the weekend. Mutual aid has been requested. Crews from 8 utilities are on their way to assist from Central Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Jacksonville. Over 66,000 customers are without service."

FSU "Flying High" circus tent is gone as FSU endures 'severe impacts'

The Tallahassee morning storm wreaked havoc on the Florida State University which said it endured "severe impacts." The "Flying High" Circus tent is no longer standing, according to reporter Douglas Soule.

The tent material is twisted around gnarled metal beams on the soaked ground. The circular bleaches are shattered in multiple spots. Wires vine through everything.

The Florida State University Flying High Circus was founded in 1947 by Jack Haskin and was one of the first ways of integrating men and women after the college became co-ed. Haskin introduced an activity he had used as a high-school teacher in Illinois: a circus of two dozen acrobatic, juggling and balancing acts.

By the 1960s, the circus was internationally famous and appeared on TV shows such as "Wide World of Sports." In the 1970s, former circus director Dickie Brinson scheduled road shows all over the Southeast and Caribbean, found donors and fostered an alumni association.

After trying to take it on a case-by-case basis, Leon County Schools administrators made the call at 9:15 a.m. to close all schools for the day.

"After discussion with our school principals and staff, we have made the decision to close schools for the remainder of the day," the district wrote on X. "Parents: Please proceed to your school to pick up your students."

The announcement came less than an hour after the district said it would be opening all elementary schools except Fort Braden and Woodville. Many high school students had arrived at schools before the worst of the storms blew through, which led them to bunker down in media rooms and hallways after the tornado warning was issued.

Reported tornado had downtown Tallahassee in its crosshairs

Christian Oliver, meteorologist with the National Weather service in Tallahassee, said a line of severe storms intensified as it neared the city, spawning a reported tornado in the downtown area.

“As that line was approaching the city, we had three distinct circulations, each with their own tornado debris signature,” Oliver said. “It looked like they were all kind of coming together into one tornadic capable storm.”

Oliver said the Weather Service received multiple eyewitness reports of a tornado downtown. A firefighter called in to report a twister in near Gaines Street.

“We’ll have to go out once it’s safe to do so to see what really happened and what moved through the city,” he said. “But we’ve had people call in saying that they actually saw at least one tornado.”

City of Tallahassee calls in outside power crews to assist; restoration will 'take some time'

With more than 66,000 out of power in Tallahassee, city officials are putting out the call for mutual aid.

That means crews from other electric companies swoop in to assist on the more than 650 outages around the city. Eight utilities from Louisiana, Alabama, Jacksonville and Central Florida are headed to the capital city.

City spokesperson Alison Faris said there is "significant transmission line damage which has impacted 11 substations that power the city. She said the grid was hard hit because the most intense winds hit around the city's main power plant and infrastructure.

Crews are already out and assessing and reconnecting customers to the grid.

POWER OUTAGES:Over 100,000 power outages in Florida as thunderstorms batter parts of state. Here's where

Faris said after early assessment that crews will undoubtedly be working around the clock and through the weekend.

"Based on the assessment and what we are seeing right now, the restoration is going to take some time because of the severity of what we're seeing," she told the Democrat

"There are lots of reports of downed trees and and downed polls," Faris said. "If you can stay off the roads, than please do, because that enables crews to do their work on power restoration and road clearing."

"FAMU Main Campus and FAMU DRS are CLOSED today due to severe weather conditions and a localized tornado warning," the university posted on X. "All non-essential employees are instructed to work from home."

Elementary schools open, except Fort Braden and Woodville; absences and tardies will be excused

Leon schools confirmed elementary schools will open at 8:30 a.m. and all absences and tardies will be excused, according to district officials on X.

Ft. Braden and Woodville schools will remain closed today due to damage.

"Following the completion of the first wave of storm assessments, it has been determined that the severe impact on campus necessitates the closure of the Tallahassee campus for business operations until further notice. Essential employees may be required to report to campus, and certain scheduled activities must continue. Employees should contact their supervisors to determine essential status."

For further information on the University’s status, official announcements, or situational updates, check alerts.fsu.edu.

Reports of tree, building damage throughout the city; city advises residents to stay off the roads if you can.

"Getting reports of trees down in many locations," the city of Tallahassee posted on X. "If you can stay off the roads this morning, please do. This helps responders."

There are also reports of debris after the storm cause structural damage to buildings around the city. A video shot at Railroad Square shows debris down.

"Tornado damage in Tallahassee Railroad Square - shredded insulation, wood and metal littered around - pieces of roof ripped off multiple buildings," the post stated.

The storms that hit Tallahassee this morning intensified as they approached the city, with three distinct rotating cells combining into one reported tornado that hit downtown, according to National Weather Service forecasters.

Multiple witnesses, including a firefighter near Gaines Street, called the @NWSTallahassee to report seeing a tornado downtown," Democrat reporter Jeff Burlew tweeted. "The Weather Service said it wasn’t clear whether the tornado was was on the ground."

Tallahassee Community College will be closed on Friday "due to impacts from severe weather," the college posted on X.

College locations that will be closed today are: Main Campus, Gadsden Center, Ghazvini Center for Healthcare Education, Wakulla Center, and Wakulla Environmental Institute. College services are suspended at the Center for Innovation. The Florida Public Safety Institute will remain open and operational.

Leon County Schools is assessing damage and advises parents that safety comes first.

School District spokesperson Chris Petley says there are many schools without power and some with tree damage. Elementary and middle school principals are taking stock and will huddle with district officials in the 8 o'clock hour. Petley said the district is currently taking things on a school-by-school basis.

"We will have decisions in the next 30 minutes on elementary," he said. "It's a site by site decision as of this moment. But that could change."

AP exams have also been canceled by many schools.

Petley emphasized that absences and tardies will be excused.

"Please make the best decision for your family at this time," he said.

District staff and administrators at the Aquilina Howell Center were advised to stay home because access to the office may be blocked due to tornado damage and inaccessible roads.

Power out throughout the city; Outage map shows 60,000 customers in the dark

A short and furious storm knocked out power to more than 60,000 people in Tallahassee, according to the city's power outage map.

That number rivals what the city sees during hurricane strikes or near-misses.

"There are reports of substantial scattered outages around town as a result of the severe weather moving through," the city posted on X. "As it is safe to do so, crews will work to restore service. If you are driving this morning, use caution as there could be downed trees or other debris."

The Tallahassee area is under tornado warnings as severe storms with rotating winds roar across the Big Bend.

One tornado warning for northwestern Wakulla County and Leon County is in effect until 7:30 a.m. At 6:50 a.m., tornadic storms were located along a line extending from Midway to 14 miles southwest of Tallahassee.

"DANGEROUS SITUATION UNFOLDING FOR #TALLAHASSEE right now. SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY! Multiple circulations and Radar-confirmed tornadoes apparent on Radar. #FLwx," the weather service posted on X.

The storms blew up at the same time Leon County High School parents were getting their kids to school. A school district spokesperson advised parents that tardies and absences would be excused and to stay off the roads until conditions are safe.

One teacher at Leon High sent an alert to students saying "there is no power at school. Do not drive in the storm."

Many South Georgia school districts closed in advance of the storm, but Tallahassee was listed in a lower risk area by forecasters.

"ALL LCS Busses will be delaying pick up for elementary and middle school until the severe weather passes through our area," the district tweeted. "Please monitor your email and our social media for updates. Our buses are parking at all the high schools to stay in place at this time."

The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore tweeted radar of what he said were two radar-indicated tornadoes in the Tallahassee area.

The tornado warning is set to end at 7:30 a.m. while a sever thunderstom warning remains until 7:45 a.m.

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