Damaging weekend storms, tornadoes caught many by surprise; residents left picking up the pieces

Although weekend storms were expected, the arrival of two tornadoes amid the storms caught many by surprise.

News4JAX spoke to the head of Jacksonville’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC) on Monday about the response and what it did during the storm to protect residents.

When word of a possible tornado hit, people working in the center got the word out to government leaders and those who needed to know, officials said.

The city was on standby and a lot was going on Sunday before the storms hit, like the DONNA Marathon. Emergency Preparedness Chief Andre Ayoub said he was with the National Weather Service (NWS) throughout the day.

“With the Donna Marathon going on we already had an update. We were talking with the NWS about the storm coming up, the severe weather storms. The team was already talking. But early to mid-afternoon, we started to have some unofficial touchdowns in Clay County coming in a northwest direction towards Duval County,” Ayoub said. “This happened pretty fast. So we didn’t activate. But we really started jumping on to monitoring and notified all our stakeholders.”

Ayoub said as soon as he heard about possible tornadoes, he called his team and they activated the EOC.

“Obviously, it’s a Sunday afternoon so everybody’s getting dressed. And they’re waiting for a call from me. So I started having people, one of my individuals in this office actually started turning the computer on and started monitoring the track and started sending out spot reports to all our 200-plus stakeholders in the county,” he said. “When we started getting information that there was a touchdown of a tornado, I talked to [JFRD]Chief [Keith] Powers, the director of the fire department, we went out there and immediately with JSO. Emergency personnel, we went out there. And we just started looking at site assessment and looking at, you know, the telephone poles, injuries, just trying to really get our arms around what happened out there.”

News4JAX was on the Westside on Monday to talk to people who were caught in the storms. One woman who did not want to be identified had what appeared to be the most damage to her home. JFRD said 20-30 homes were damaged on Sunday in the area.

“We’re safe,” the woman said. “My roof, all the front of the house looks great, but the back of the house, it’s completely gone. I mean, there’s water damage in the sheetrock on the ceiling. We had water coming through.”

She said there was not enough warning before it hit.

She did say JEA and crews were able to restore power quickly.

The clean-up is still underway and so are the repairs to homes, but the lessons on how to respond continue.

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