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Denair residents picking up pieces; 21 homes suffer damage

There was plenty of damage, and a lot of work, taking place along Zeering Road in Turlock, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 16, 2016, a day after a tornado touched down in the Stanislaus County town.
There was plenty of damage, and a lot of work, taking place along Zeering Road in Turlock, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 16, 2016, a day after a tornado touched down in the Stanislaus County town. etracy@modbee.com

DENAIR – The tornado that ripped through town Sunday afternoon had winds of between 86 and 111 mph and it came without warning, authorities said Monday.

“The windows were rattling ... I opened up the door and everything was black, completely black,” said Edward Garcia, who was home with his three nieces when the weather turned in a period of just five minutes.

His home is among 21 others that were damaged when the tornado swept through the small Stanislaus County town of 4,400, knocking trees onto homes, ripping shingles off of roofs, breaking windows and razing outbuildings. It touched down along West Zeering Road, near Quincy Road, at about 2 p.m. It continued down a two-mile path that ended east of Denair.

Cleanup efforts were under way on Monday. Residents were on the phone with insurance companies, piling debris is trash cans and cutting downed limbs into manageable piles.

Stanislaus County Public Works also was taking care of damaged and fallen trees, temporarily closing streets while they worked.

The sky was clear but wind gusts over 35 mph on Monday blew vegetation and roof shingles though town.

County officials “red tagged” a two-story home on Zeering, west of Quincy, that sustained structural damage after a tree fell on it, said Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Bejaran. The residents cannot occupy it until the tree is removed and the structural damage is inspected. If it’s deemed unsafe, residents would not be allowed in until it’s repaired.

Another home on the east end of Zeering was put on restriction, Bejaran said, meaning the residents can go in it to collect belongings but cannot stay there. The windows were blown out, there is no gas or electricity, the pump to the property’s well was ripped from the ground and a nearby barn collapsed on top of the resident’s car.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Eric Kurth said at a Monday news conference in Denair that representatives inspected the affected area and categorized the tornado as an EF1. He explained that tornadoes range from an EF0 to an EF5. The highest ever reported in California was an EF3; that was in Southern California.

Lydia Beccard had been readying her home for her daughter’s first birthday party next weekend; she painted the front porch and was in Turlock picking out a cake when the tornado hit.

When she returend, she found her fence in pieces, tree limbs covered her yard and a metal framed patio table was dangling from a backyard tree. Remarkably, it’s glass top was not broken. The roof of her detached garage also was intact, but lying upside-down in her neighbor’s yard.

“Saturday you are planning a party and painting and then Sunday there’s a tornado,” Beccard said. “It’s California … we know what to do with earthquakes but we don’t really expect a tornado.”

California has as many as eight or nine tornadoes a year, Kurth said; mostly damaging agriculture land or a single property or barn.

“What is remarkable about this one is that it did go through at town so there is a good extent of damage,” he said. “There is a pretty long area where it went through a fairly densely populated area. I think we are quite lucky that there weren’t some injuries.”

Residents reported seeing other funnel clouds around eastern Stanislaus County as far as the Merced County line.

Kurth said no warning was issued because forecasters detected only a “suggestion” of rotation, not a definitive tornado, on radar.

One house was filled with smoke when a tree fell on a chimney where a fire was going in a fireplace.

Most of Denair was without power through the evening and 50 homes were without gas. It was restored to most places by midnight; some homes remained without power Monday because of structural damage.

Authorities on Monday were working on a damage estimate for the tornado.

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