Tornado Rips into Newton - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Newton 12/19/02

Tornado Rips into Newton

By David Kenney
david@wlbt.net

A tornado ripped through the small city of Newton early Thursday afternoon, striking a busy shopping district filled with holiday shoppers. Dozens of people were injured, business destroyed and homes damaged.

Thursday night, the city was locked down, no cars being let in or out of the areas hardest hit by the storm. About 15 businesses and numerous homes were completely destroyed, but amazingly, no lives were lost.

The clean up continued into the night, as lineman crews scramble to restore power to hundreds of residents still in the dark. Earlier in the day, within minutes, the mid-afternoon twister turned the relatively small town into a large disaster.

Beth Stevens is an employee at one of the local grocery stores. "Glass was flying everywhere, jars of Blue Plate and Ketchup was ... and everything else was flying. Got glass everywhere."

The town's grocery store was completely leveled. The Lay-Z-Boy recliner plant damaged and a downtown gas station left in a heap of rubble.

Those caught in the tornado's path took cover and never looked back.

"(There was a) bunch of rain and wind and we was trying to lock the doors and we couldn't. Everything just started flying and we just ran to the cooler and locked ourselves in there. Everything was destroyed," said Alecia Evans who works at a local restaurant.

Newton's Wal-Mart, filled with holiday shoppers at the time, suffered heavy roof and storefront damage. Every car in the parking lot left with broken windows or worse.

Bernice Huddleston was working at the store when the storm hit. "Somebody hollered 'tonados hit'. I got down on the floor. I don't know how I got in the cash office ... next thing I know, I was in the cash office."

Governor Ronnie Musgrove went to Newton shortly after news of the damage was reported. "The best piece of news I've heard today is there is no loss of life."

With less than a week 'til Christmas, residents are now having to put car windows on their wish list, most thankful this year they walked away from the storm with the greatest gift of all ... their lives.

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