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Tornado touches down in Denair, causes damage to homes, church

A tornado swept along Zeering Road on Sunday afternoon, damaging roofs of residences and a church, knocking down outbuildings and fences, downing power lines, breaking gas lines and causing other destruction. There were no reports of injuries.

“What I thought was a bunch of birds was a bunch of debris” being carried by the funnel cloud, said Sabina Woodard, who lives with her husband at the east end of Zeering and saw the dark mass heading their way. “It looked like a remake of that Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds.’ 

When the tornado struck, “my husband and I thought we were going, that this was the end of the world for us,” Woodard said. Zane Woodard has Parkinson’s disease, so the couple took refuge under the hospital bed in their home, which was heavy enough to prove stable as furnishings including their television set flew about.

The couple have lived in the home 31 years, and the house itself was built in the 1930s. The Woodards didn’t know where they’d be staying Sunday night, as their home was without electricity, water or gas. Zane Woodard said they were just happy to be alive.

And looking down at her Scottish terrier, a Toto-ish little guy named Caden Mackenna, Sabina Woodard made reference to another classic movie. “I guess I’ll have to get some ruby red slippers.”

All the residents along nearly a mile of Zeering must have felt they’d been transplanted from Denair into Kansas when the twister formed a bit before 2 p.m.

Eduardo Trevizo was home with his 9-year-old son, Carlos, at the time. He was sitting on his front porch when he heard the roar of it approaching from behind his home. It knocked down fencing, broke an upstairs window, knocked down trees and tore away part of the enclosure to his house’s water heater. “It happened real quick,” he said. “I saw a black line, which was lots of black leaves” in the funnel cloud.

Trevizo got Carlos and headed into the home’s basement. “It was scary,” Carlos said. “I grabbed nothing, no shoes even.”

A command center for emergency responders was set up at Gratton and Zeering roads. Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Anthony Bejaran said early reports were of damage to buildings including homes and Lighthouse Baptist Church, but no injuries.

Agencies on the scene also included the California Highway Patrol and the Denair and Keyes fire departments. Firefighters were sawing up and clearing fallen trees and limbs. Crews from the Turlock Irrigation District and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. arrived to repair utilities damage.

Scores of people were on the streets, surveying damage, checking on neighbors, talking of trampolines and other belongings picked up and deposited houses away. Zeering resident Rob Rogers, a geology professor at California State University, Stanislaus, had just returned to a neighbor’s yard a rooftop vent that ended up next door at his home.

Justin Lehman, pastor at Lighthouse Baptist, was looking at the holes punched through the roof of its fellowship hall. Eyeing the tree that did the damage, he commented, “We’ve been meaning to take it down, but not like this.”

Services were held earlier in the day at the church, but the 1907 building, which appeared to suffer minor damage such as shingles being torn from the roof, and the fellowship hall were not in use when the storm hit.

“God’s good to us,” Lehman said. “We’re excited for the opportunities this will bring, for what God has planned for us. ... We just have to figure out what to do in the meantime.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

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