3 dead after tornado rips through York County

YORK COUNTY, S.C.,None — The National Weather Service confirmed Thursday that an EF-2 tornado ripped through York County on Wednesday evening.

Three people were killed and five others were injured when the tornado hit, according to the York County Sheriff’s Office.

Steve Courtney, 60, Charles Kenneth Hafner, 60, and Barbara Hafner, 62, were killed in the storms. The names and conditions of those injured have not been released.

Steve and Sharon Courtney were very active at Northside Baptist Church in Rock Hill. Sharon Courtney has played the piano there for 28 years.

On Wednesday night, she was at a Bible study there while her husband, Steve, was at home on Williamson Road.

The tornado sirens sounded around 5:15 p.m., and everyone heard them at the church. During dinner, Courtney got a phone call from her son, telling her that a tornado had destroyed their house, and her husband was dead.

Associate pastor Larry Gregory spent Thursday with the family. He was at the church with Sharon Courtney when she got the news.

"The church is so saddened by all of this. It's a tragic loss. We're hurting for them," he said.

The worst of the damage is about 8 miles southwest of downtown Rock Hill.

Meteorologist Katie Virtue said there is a clear path of damage that’s more than 1 mile long along Highway 324. Homes were destroyed and trees were uprooted and snapped in half.

Virtue said there is visible swirling in some of the grass in the area and that trees were snapped in different directions.

“I started hearing, like, a train,” Libbey Estes said, describing the storm. “It went on for a while. The barn shook and then, all at once, it quit and the power went off and it was calm -- a dead calm.”

On Thursday, family members came by to salvage what they could from the piles of debris.

“I'm here to see if I can salvage anything for my brother,” David Neely said. “He's at the hospital with his wife."

Neely’s sister-in-law was rescued from what was left of her house on Wednesday night.

“From what I understand a tree came through the roof and caught her in the restroom, where she was trying to get out of the storm,” he said. “(It) lifted the bathtub up and set it back down on her feet.”

York County's Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell said dealing with any disaster is emotionally hard, but more so one like this.

Howell lives near the scene of devastation. He said the people who've lost loved ones here are like family to many people.

"I live only three miles away from here. These people aren't victims, they're neighbors. That adds so much to what we're doing out here," he said.

The tornado's destructive path was 200 yards wide, the NWS said.

NWS officials said winds reached speeds of up to 135 mph. Debris from the tornado was found as far away as 12 to 15 miles from its origin.

Wednesday’s storm caused the first tornado-related death in York County’s history.

Neely said the community will rebuild.

“It's going to be hard to overcome,” he said. “It's something we'll never forget in this community. This community will pull together, and we'll get back on our feet.”

The South Carolina Insurance News Service told Channel 9 they estimate the damage in York County at $3 million.

Davidson County

A 3-year-old girl and a woman were killed in a house when a suspected tornado moved through Davidson County, sending 11 people to hospitals and damaging or destroying about 35 buildings.

County Emergency Services Director Jeff Smith said Thursday the girl and the woman were related. Authorities did not release their names because the family had not been notified.

Smith said there was little time between the storm being sighted on radar and the first 911 calls.

The National Weather Service was in the county Thursday, investigating whether the storm was a tornado. Smith said the storm left a debris field about 7 miles long and about 100 yards wide.