UPDATE at 1:55 a.m. on 6/20/19 with more information about the reports of a tornado touchdown and damages around town.
UPDATE at 9:49 p.m. on 6/19/19 with comments from local residents
Greenville residents and business owners were cleaning up around town after reports that a tornado touched down at least once inside the city around 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.
No injuries had been reported as of 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, but dozens of downtown businesses as well as homes on the north and south ends of Greenville received significant damage, with broken trees, downed power lines and scores of blocked roads. Herald-Banner reporters stumbled upon at least four collapsed structures on the north side of the city.
The strongest winds struck the west end of downtown Greenville at 5:38 p.m., and power went out the same minute. A tornado warning alert was issued about 5:46 p.m. by the National Weather Service. About 5:55, emergency responders on the police scanner began listing addresses that needed responders. At 5:59, officers on the scanner said "two confirmed tornado touchdowns" in north Greenville.
By 6:15 p.m. — with the destructive storm barreling eastward out of the city but the warning still active — Greenville police and firefighters were requesting immediate assistance from every available emergency response unit in the county for a search and rescue effort in the hardest-hit parts of the city, where some buildings had significant damage or had reportedly collapsed.
Shortly after 7 p.m., emergency officials gave the all-clear and said every location had been checked and they had no reports of injuries, but they noted that power was knocked out for the entire 75401 ZIP code.
Hunt County Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Hill and Hunt County Sgt. Jeff Haines said county officials had been visiting areas of reported damage across several locations and had not heard of any significant injuries.
Golf-ball sized hail was reported during the storm in Merit and Celeste, which had power outages but no immediate reports of widespread damage. A Farmersville resident‘s photo of tennis-ball sized hail there was shared on the Weather Service’s Twitter.
Greenville appeared to have been the hardest hit, with the Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Joe Ramsey Boulevard and multiple buildings in downtown Greenville sustaining significant damage. On the south side of the city, Turtle Creek subdivision was said to also have significant damage to trees, power lines and roofs.
Downtown was chaotic as emergency responders began converging on the areas with the most debris and rubble strewn about, just east of the square. Damage was not consistent across the entire area: the front of the Crawford Smith store was thrown into the middle of Lee Street, yet across the road, the chairs on the front porch of the Ain't Just Pie diner sat perfectly untouched.
The Delta Logistics offices on the east end of Lee Street also showed structural damage, and several utility poles were knocked down and into power lines. Downed trees and power lines were spotted on every block between downtown and Sockwell Boulevard, and by 6:30, scores of residents were venturing outside and milling about, surveying the damage and checking on neighbors.
Also downtown, the I.O.O.F. Lodge had a portion of its roof torn away, and the Children's Advocacy Center had a portion of an awning land a block away.
Several fire departments helped watch over the downtown area and established a command post at the Hunt County Courthouse as the power remained off across the area as of press time.
Hill said officials with the National Weather Service are expected to come to Hunt County Thursday to assess the damage and confirm whether it was caused by tornadoes or high winds.
Hunt County remained under a tornado watch as of press time late Wednesday.
Ray Lewis, a resident in 1100 block of Highway 224, said that he thought the worst of the storm would miss Greenville.
“It looked like it was going to miss us, but it came right back over us,” Lewis said. “I thought we would miss the most of it, but it came back and got us like it always does.”
Lewis’ home suffered damage from multiple trees felled on his property during the storm.
The home of Noble Gilstrap in the 4600 block of Washington Street suffered major damage, with the building’s carport collapsing onto Gilstrap’s truck.
Monica Fisher lives across the street from Gilstrap and said she saw the tree fall over and cause the carport to collapse.
“We came back from the Juneteenth celebration at Graham Park, and when we pulled into the driveway it started getting real bad,” Fisher said. “All of a sudden a tree snapped and it scared the life out of me. As I looked at the tree, the carport collapsed, so at that moment I ran into the house as fast as I could. Later I checked on (the people in the house) and they were okay, but they didn’t even know what was going on.”
Gilstrap said he heard the racket but wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“We heard the noise but weren’t sure what was happening,” Gilstrap said. “There is damage all around to our fences and other things almost circling the house.”
One of the structures to suffer the most damage was the Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Joe Ramsey Boulevard. Multiple sections of roof were either missing or caved in. Chet Haney, pastor at the church, spoke about the damage.
“We tried to cancel our services tonight, but it was very late in the game. So some of our folks had already arrived, and the early arrivers had to hunker down in a safe place in the building. By the time I arrived here I had already received many pictures from people. The sanctuary is probably the most damaged,” Haney said. “If you hear our church was damaged, don’t believe it. Because this is just a building that we meet in, the church is the people. And as far as we know not one single person here was hurt, for which we give great thanks to the lord.”