Tornado outbreak 30 years ago remembered by many - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Tornado outbreak 30 years ago remembered by many

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A National Weather Service graphic highlights the tornadoes that hit the Carolinas on March 28, 1984. (Source: NWS) A National Weather Service graphic highlights the tornadoes that hit the Carolinas on March 28, 1984. (Source: NWS)
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Friday marks the 30th anniversary of one of the largest and most devastating tornado outbreaks to affect South Carolina. 

Twenty-two tornadoes ripped through South Carolina and North Carolina on March 28, 1984. Fifty-seven people died in the Carolinas, 15 of those fatalities were in South Carolina. 

The storms formed from a powerful spring low pressure system that moved from Mississippi and Alabama through the center of South Carolina. 

According to Dr. Theodore Fujita, the storms consisted of a single family of tornadoes that covered a distance of nearly 250 miles. 

Confirmed tornadoes touched down in eight South Carolina counties and 17 North Carolina counties. According to meteorologists, this was a rare and unusual East Coast outbreak in several meteorological specifics, but also in its intensity. In this event, one single storm cell produced a family of 13 tornadoes, 10 of which were F-3 or F-4.

In the Midlands, large paths of damage could be seen from Newberry County to Kershaw County.

Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster remembers the day well.

"Everyone has a story of where they were doing the storm," said Foster, who was a captain with the sheriff's department in 1984. "I watched it with Terry Graham from the sally port of the Complex on Louis Rich Rd. as the sky turned dark, then greenish and then orange."

"Hail varying from the size of golf balls to the size of a baseball were pelting our vehicles," said Foster. "For years after that our cars looked like golf balls from the damage."

"We then responded to Epting Automotive, where unfortunately a person that I had grown up with was entrapped," said Foster. "I worked with the crews to recover his body."

Foster was then asked to fly with the National Guard to take pictures of the damage.

"It was unbelievable to see the damage that destroyed one building but left one right beside it in tact," said Foster.

"That night I was told to pick up Senator Strom Thurmond from the airport and take him on a tour of the area," said Foster. "Now that was interesting."

He says he turned hundreds of photos over to Sheriff Henderson, but has no idea where those images are now. "Back then, there was no digital technology," said Foster. "All I had was photos and negatives."

Foster says evidence of the outbreak can still be seen in Newberry. "Thirty years later there are still scars from that storm and memories every time I ride down Main Street and see the vacant lots and broken walls of buildings," said Foster. "But even with the loss of life and numerous injuries, we were blessed it was not worse."

When all was said and done, 24 tornadoes were confirmed, along with 57 deaths and more than 1,200 injuries. Seven of those tornadoes were F-2, five were F-3 and 7 were F-4, a testament to the strength and intensity of this rare outbreak.

"Let us pray that we don't experience this again," said Foster.

Late February through early April is prime season for South Carolina to see possible tornadoes that are not formed through tropical activity.

Copyright 2014 WIS. All rights reserved. WMBF News contributed to this report.

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