Tornado tears through Ballinger leaving trail of destruction

Bill Hancock
A skid steer works to removed debris from in front of several homes damaged by the tornado that struck just after 7:20 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, May 18th.

On Saturday morning, May 18th, at about 7:20 a.m., a large tornado formed and touched down in Rowena. Warnings had been issued prior to the tornado with updates while it was on the ground. The twister traveled across farms as it crossed County Road 2133. The twister then traveled northward over recently plowed fields from east of highway 67 in Rowena to where it crossed the highway 2.5 miles south of Ballinger, about 300’ south of Zertuche automotive and the old Runnels County Vet clinic. The tornado uprooted old-growth oak trees and mesquite trees and snapped off limbs like matchsticks.

 Several old farmhouses and a few other old farm structures were leveled the storms wrath. One vacant old farmhouse on highway 67 where the storm was completely destroyed along with a couple of other buildings on the property. An RV that had been behind the farmhouse was flipped over. It is unknown if anyone was inside the RV when the tornado struck.

 Once the tornado crossed the highway, it continued out to Ballinger Lake, raining destruction along the way while grinding a path across the countryside. The storm that generated the tornado also damaged other structures with wind speeds recorded near 100 mph.

 Two houses on 158 across from the high school were destroyed and two others another houses suffered extensive damage. There were people at home at the time and miraculously no one was killed or injured.

 The city fire department, police department and other city departments responded to the scene within minutes. City manager Tommy Turney was also on-scene as an incident command post was established at Buddy’s Plant Plus. Turney was out helping direct the city workers with the cleanup. Many other residents in the area responded with tractors, front-end loaders, skid-steers, etc. and assisted in removing debris. At least 3 vehicles were destroyed by fallen trees and debris that flew through the air like missiles. 

 The Ballinger Country Club suffered extensive damage. The pine trees and oak trees, many of which were planted in 1987, were uprooted completely. The stone wall by the swimming pool was knocked down and almost every structure suffered significant damage. The club itself had portions of 2 walls ripped out and several other damaged areas. The home on the country club had its roof ripped off and strewn across fairways and damaged cart buildings.

The metal fishing pier in the club’s pond looked like twisted wreckage from a shipwreck.

 The baseball field and football field at the high school all suffered damage. The baseball field was almost completely wiped out having suffered catastrophic damage. The fences were down, the home dugout lay twisted and torn, the concession stand was nothing more than twisted metal, the stands were destroyed and the scoreboards were scattered in pieces. The scoreboard the high school football field was ripped away and tossed across the field and parking lot. The stands and press box were warped and torn away in several areas.

 The water tower in Ballinger also suffered damage when some object penetrated the tower on the lower third portion and caused a massive leak.

  The storm snapped telephone poles as it wove its way across the farmland. Between Tom Green County, Runnels County and Coleman County, thousands were left without power for a several hours.

 Power was lost to several areas in the county. The storm continued to the northeast into Coleman with one more tornado reported out by Bruce field. The first tornado was estimated to be an F3 but NOAA has not given final word on it at this time.

 Turney said that the city would be releasing a statement on the incident once they had everything under control and power back to the homes and businesses.

 There will be further updates throughout the weekend and next week. The updates will be posted to the newspaper’s Facebook page and website,