By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
It is hard to believe it has been over 40 years since the massive F4 tornado of Dec. 2 struck Highland. The over 13 inches of rain that resulted in historical flooding also contributed to the massive property damage in Hardy. While a lot has changed in four decades, and Highland would be struck again at the same shopping center in 2005, the floods since have never caused as much damage.
Long time residents will all have their memories of the tornado and subsequent flooding, but those who were directly impacted by the tornado, perhaps remember it best.
The tornado alone caused nearly $11 million in damages with 35 businesses in the Ark Center, that is now the Highland Square Shopping Center, heavily damaged. Two of the largest businesses in the center, Town and Country and Magic Mart collectively sustained $650,000 in damage. A 40 foot semi trailer was thrown through the roof of the Magic Mart store. Kevin Burton and Pam Kilpatrick were both in the back at the time the trailer plunged through the roof
When the tornado hit Magic Mart, the store was still open with about ten or less shoppers in the store. The employee said that due to the power outages they had been having to reboot their cash registers. Reba Johnson, who also worked as a cashier was at the front of the store. She called her father when the electricity began going on and off during the storm informing him she would be coming home shortly .
She walked out on the porch and realized the sound was not a traffic accident, but it was a tornado. Going back into the store with the woman she had just checked out, just in time for, one of the assistant managers held a flashlight up to his face and told everyone to get down.
After the tornado had passed the employees checked the store to make sure everyone was out of the store and that there were no injuries to report.
That night, torrential rainfall hit the Spring River area, causing the river to overflow from its banks very quickly. Reba had made it home safely and was home with her brother. Her mother had gone to check on the house they owned on the river. She said her brother woke her up saying he heard someone yelling. They realized it was their father yelling for help.
Her father, who owned a local truss plant, went down to the truss plant to secure trusses and lumber so they would not float away, by chaining them to electric poles. The truss plant was right between two creeks . As the water rose the trusses began to rise up the pole. My dad said “One minute I was walking on the ground and the next minute I was floating up the pole on the trusses.”
Reba sent her brother up the hill to see if he could find someone who had a boat. Their neighbor Danny Evans had a canoe. Laughing, she said “ I guess I thought I was going to rescue my dad.” She said Danny crossed the flooded waters and rescued her dad.
“We were blessed and highly favored,” she explained of the potential danger she and her family had overcome in both the tornado and flood.
The Highland Twin Theater also sustained heavy damage as the back and side walls and reels of movie film were seen strewn about the parking lot and trees nearby, according to photos published of the tornado. Then seats within the theater were covered with insulation and debris and the curtain was wrapped in a nearby tree. While other businesses all suffered extensive damage, the law office of the late Lloyd Harper remained virtually untouched.
Radio Shack also sustained heavy losses with $350,000 in damages. The tornado struck around 6:45 p.m., luckily many of the businesses did not have customers inside. Sharp County was designated a Disaster Area by President Ronald Reagan.
The floods that came after the tornado caused as much of more damage after it dropped 13 inches of rain on the area. 15 vehicles were washed into the river and numerous homes in both Cherokee Village along the South Fork River and Rio Vista 2, according to historical accounts of the flood by former Office of Emergency Services Coordinator Pete Reilly in newspaper stories published by the Baxter Bulletin.
While the millions of dollars in property damage left families and businesses scrambling to recover their belongings, there was no life lost in Sharp County during the devastation.
This would not be the last time a tornado or flood hit the Highland and Hardy area, but it was the most devastating to date. In 2005, yet another tornado took out the same shopping center in 2005. Several floods have plagued the Spring River, including another the same year on Dec. 23, but none have impacted the area as deeply as the Dec. 2 flood.