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Panola County issues disaster declaration in aftermath of deadly tornadoes
  • Updated

Panola County’s top administrator on Monday issued a disaster declaration after severe storms this past weekend spawned tornadoes that caused widespread damage and killed one person.

The declaration, issued by County Judge LeeAnn Jones, proclaims a local state of disaster in place for seven days, unless renewed by the Panola County Commissioners Court.

Saturday’s storms produced five tornadoes in the region, including two tornadoes with ratings of EF-2 in Panola County, the National Weather Service said in a preliminary report issued Sunday night.

The tornadoes in Panola County traveled on the ground for more than 15 miles and reached winds above 115 mph, resulting in the death of one person, injuries to several others and widespread damage throughout the southern half of the county.

The name of the woman who was killed in the storms had not been released Monday evening. The Panola County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday morning that widespread major damage spanned the full width of the county.

The first tornado began at about 6 p.m. roughly 8 miles south-southwest of Rusk in Cherokee County. The EF-2 tornado had peak winds of 120 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It’s 20-mile path ended at about 6:30 p.m. 4 miles east-southwest of Reklaw in Nacogdoches County.

The National Weather Service said the tornado began around Russell Cemetery off FM 23 southwest of Rusk before crossing U.S. 69 and causing intermittent damage along CR 1101. The tornado then crossed FM 343, when it intensified and widened to about 500 yards. The tornado snapped several hundred trees along CR 1211 and CR 1209 before it weakened and lifted northwest of Sacul.

The second tornado began at about 7 p.m. 1 mile west of Mount Enterprise in Rusk County and ended 3 miles north-northwest of Gary in Panola County. The National Weather Service said peak winds reached 115 mph.

The tornado uprooted trees near Mount Enterprise and caused shingle and roof damage before damaging a church steeple as it crossed U.S. 84 along its 21-mile path.

“The tornado continued to snap and uproot trees and produce shingle damage as it passed across the north side of Mount Enterprise,” the service said. “After moving out of Mount Enterprise, the tornado continued to uproot and snap trees until it reached several residences on the shore of Lake Murvaul. There, the tornado increased in intensity as it snapped or uprooted most trees and damaged the shingles on many homes. The tornado crossed Lake Murvaul, and it weakened as it began to produce more sporadic damage.”

The National Weather Service said a preliminary analysis indicates the tornado lifted northeast of Lake Murvaul and northwest of Gary. While the preliminary survey does not show a continuous track, data from aerial surveys might show there was one continuous track to just south of Carthage.

The third tornado ran about 16 miles southeast and east of Carthage, with peak winds of 125 mph. The EF-2 twister began at about 7:38 p.m. around 4 miles south-southeast of Carthage and ended at 8:05 p.m. 9 miles west of Keachi, Louisiana.

The National Weather Service said the tornado touched down near U.S. 59 south of Carthage, where it downed and uprooted trees before intensifying and running parallel to FM 2517. It ripped the roof off a single-family home, completely destroyed three metal outbuildings and shifted a single-family home off its foundation. On CR 405, the tornado tossed an antique car about 50 yards, wrapped sheet metal around trees and then went on to snap trees along CR 407. It then crossed FM 699, damaging a home’s roof and pulling a manufactured home free from its anchors.

“The tornado widened considerably and produced a wide swath of snapped trees north and south of FM 2517, likely numbering well into the hundreds, especially in an area along CR 448,” the National Weather Service said. “As the tornado crossed Hwy 31, a large outbuilding was destroyed, but portions of the wooden frame remained anchored by bolts to the foundation. In this same area, a large pine tree was uprooted and fell onto a single-wide manufactured home killing one person and injuring another.”

The tornado kept traveling north of FM 2517 before it crossed CR 470 and 471 and lifted east of CR 332.

The fourth and fifth tornadoes in the region were in northwestern Louisiana.

The fourth tornado had an EF-1 rating. It touched down near Keachi, Louisiana, and had estimated peak winds of 93 mph. It ran about 3.5 miles in DeSoto Parish.

“The tornado began on Holmes Road between Highways 168 and 172. It tracked northeast and eventually straddled the Caddo/DeSoto Parish Line,” the National Weather Service said. “It lifted near the triple intersection of Keatchie-Marshall Road, Pluto Road and Majestic Road. Damage consisted entirely of snapped and uprooted trees.”

The fifth twister was an EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 105 mph. It ran 12 miles about 2 miles south-southwest from Stonewall, Louisiana.

The tornado caused roof damage to homes in the North Desoto Estates subdivision and destroyed an attached garage on Ann Francis Road just east of U.S. 171.

The National Weather Service said the preliminary survey shows the fourth and fifth tornadoes were on a continuous track.

Soles & Boards: Local artists prepare for return of Longview's downtown ArtWalk

As Longview native Erin Jeffers creates inspired artwork on shoes, her goal is to help other single parents like herself by providing them with financial assistance.

Jeffers is the founder of LOW Soles, her freelance business in which she makes custom artwork on name brand sneakers for customers. Her plan is to use proceeds from LOW Soles to give back to single parents in need.

“I really just want to help everyone I can help. Hopefully he (her son, Liam) will catch on to the helping factor,” she said. “I want to teach him to be kind and give back, especially when we don’t need for things right now. I think it’s really important to give it to other people.”

Jeffers’ shoe artwork will be among new canvasses that will be displayed Thursday as local artists prepare for the return of Longview’s downtown ArtWalk. The event marks the first ArtWalk in more than a year.

“People are so excited to do so something that feels normal and familiar, and we’ve had an overwhelming response from our downtown businesses and from artists,” said Cynthia Hellen, executive director of Arts!Longview.

ArtWalk is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday in downtown Longview. The quarterly event serves as the signature event for Arts!Longview, the organization that oversees the city’s Cultural Arts District.

Thursday’s event marks not only the first ArtWalk since December 2019, it also serves as one of the first community events to reschedule since COVID-19 restrictions have been eased. Hellen said most of the event will be outdoors and guests are encouraged to social distance and wear face masks while viewing art.

In the past year since the pandemic began, downtown Longview has had more than 10 new businesses open, and Hellen said all of them are on board to host artists for the first ArtWalk of 2021.

Those new businesses include Ollie’s Skate Shop, which will feature artwork on new types of canvasses. Ollie’s will play host to local artists Lakey Hinson, who is creating art on skateboards, and Jeffers.

Hinson, a local artist known for creating sidewalk art around Longview, was commissioned recently by Ollie’s to create art for the skate shop’s floor. Ollie’s co-owner Zahck Israel gave Hinson a skateboard to see what he would do with it. One skateboard turned into more as Hinson created patterns on the boards. Some of the skateboards feature geometric patterns, reminiscent of Hinson’s circular sidewalk art; other designs are more of what he describes as a “stream of consciousness.”

“I had a lot of fun creating them,” Hinson said.

Hinson also has taken his artistic talents to design T-shirts and hats. His work, including the skateboards, will be on display and for sale at Ollie’s Skate Shop during ArtWalk.

Jeffers, a 2009 graduate of Longview High School, will display work at Ollie’s from her business, LOW Soles. At LOW Soles, she asks a patron what type of shoes they want, buys the shoes as part of the fee she charges, and then designs the requested art on the shoes.

Recently, she displayed two pairs shoes; one pair had an anime drawing from the series “Black Clover” and another pair featured flowers.

“I love doing floral; that’s my thing,” Jeffers said. “Peonies are my favorite flower. But I can do everything from anime, movies, horror, flowers, whatever people want. They give me an idea, and I just go with it.”

Jeffers goal with LOW Soles, which is named after her son Liam Oliver Womble, is to raise money to provide financial assistance to single parents. A single mother herself, Jeffers said she knows “it can be tough sometimes for single parents to come up with the money for daycare and other things.”

In addition to taking custom requests for shoes, Jeffers also is offering a raffle through April 5 to win a pair of custom Vans with her artwork. She’ll do the raffle drawing on April 10. Raffle tickets cost $5 for one ticket, $12 for three tickets and $20 for five tickets.

Jeffers shoes will be on display at Ollie’s during ArtWalk and she’ll be taking custom orders.

In addition to Ollie’s, 47 other downtown Longview locations will be participating in ArtWalk. Businesses include downtown museums, Longview Museum of Fine Arts, Gregg County Historical Museum and Longview WOW. A complete list of participating businesses can be found online at www.artwalklongview.com .

Hallsville ISD trustees name lone superintendent finalist

HALLSVILLE — The Hallsville ISD Board of Trustees on Monday named district Assistant Superintendent of Central Administration John Martin the lone finalist for superintendent to replace outgoing Superintendent Jeff Collum.

The mandatory 21-day waiting period begins today, and the trustees are set to meet again on April 19 to offer Martin the superintendent position.

“John Martin has served Hallsville ISD for many years and has done a great job for the district,” Board President Jay Nelson said Monday. “His experience will be valuable in the future, and he is a Bobcat at heart.”

Martin, who is in his 13th year at Hallsville ISD, graduated from Hallsville High School in 1997.

“I’ve served as assistant superintendent for five years and before that, assistant principal at Hallsville High School for three years, then principal at Hallsville High School for five years,” Martin said. “I’m thrilled and honored to be named lone finalist. This district means a lot to me. I want to continue to give back to the district, students and staff that have given so much to me.”

Martin is the father to two Hallsville High School grads and a Hallsville Junior High School student.

Martin will work with Collum as he transitions into the superintendent role. Collum’s resignation is effective May 31 as he leaves to serve as superintendent of Conway Public Schools in Conway, Arkansas.

Nelson said the district used Arrow Educational Services to conduct its superintendent search.

Collum came to Hallsville ISD in 2016 from Arkansas where he was serving as Benton ISD superintendent. Collum replaced then-retiring Hallsville ISD Superintendent Jim Dunlap.

Suez Canal reopens after stuck cargo ship is freed
  • Updated

SUEZ, Egypt — Salvage teams on Monday finally freed the colossal container ship stuck for nearly a week in the Suez Canal, ending a crisis that had clogged one of the world’s most vital waterways and halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.

A flotilla of tugboats, helped by the tides, wrenched the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since March 23.

The tugs blared their horns in jubilation as they guided the Ever Given through the water after days of futility that had captivated the world, drawing scrutiny and social media ridicule.

“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given … thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again.”

Navigation in the canal resumed at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT, noon EDT) said Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, adding that the first ships that were moving carried livestock. From the city of Suez, ships stacked with containers could be seen exiting the canal into the Red Sea.

At least 113 of over 420 vessels that had waited for Ever Given to be freed are expected to cross the canal by Tuesday morning, Rabei added at a news conference.

Analysts expect it could take at least another 10 days to clear the backlog on either end.

The Ever Given sailed to the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal, for inspection, said Evergreen Marine Corp., a Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship.

Buffeted by a sandstorm, the Ever Given had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez. That created a massive traffic jam that held up $9 billion a day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rabei said an investigation would determine why the Ever Given got stuck, and he estimated daily losses to the canal of between $12 million to $15 million.

“The Suez Canal is not guilty of what happened. We are the ones who suffered damage.” he said.

At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, had backed up to wait to traverse the canal. Dozens of others have taken the long, alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a 3,100-mile detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

The canal is a source of national pride and crucial revenue for Egypt, and President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi praised Monday’s events after days of silence about the blockage.

“Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis,” he wrote on Facebook, “despite the massive technical complexity.”

In the village of Amer, which overlooks the canal, residents cheered as the vessel moved along. Many scrambled to get a closer look while others mockingly waved goodbye to the departing ship from their fields of clover

“Mission accomplished,” villager Abdalla Ramadan said. “The whole world is relieved.”

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted its congratulations to Egypt.

The breakthrough followed days of immense effort with an elite salvage team from the Netherlands. Tugboats pushed and pulled to budge the behemoth from the shore, their work buoyed by high tide at dawn Monday that led to the vessel’s partial refloating. Specialized dredgers dug out the stern and vacuumed sand and mud from beneath the bow.

The operation was extremely delicate. While the Ever Given was stuck, the rising and falling tides put stress on the vessel, which is 400 meters (a quarter mile) long, raising concerns it could crack.

Rabei praised the team, saying they “achieved a very difficult mission in record time,” without damaging the vessel or its cargo.

Berdowski told Dutch radio station NPO 1 the company had always believed it would be the two powerful tugboats it sent that would free the ship. Monday’s strong tide “helped push the ship at the top while we pulled at the bottom and luckily it shot free,” he said.

“We were helped enormously by the strong falling tide we had this afternoon. In effect, you have the forces of nature pushing hard with you and they pushed harder than the two sea tugs could pull,” Berdowski added.

The crew on the tugs was “euphoric,” but there also was a tense moment when the huge ship was floating free “so then you have to get it under control very quickly with the tugs around it so that it doesn’t push itself back into the other side” of the canal, he said.

Jubilant workers on a tugboat sailing with the Ever Given chanted, “Mashhour, No. 1,” referring to the dredger that worked around the vessel. The dredger is named for Mashhour Ahmed Mashhour, assigned to run the canal with others when it was nationalized in 1956 by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

Once the Ever Given is inspected in Great Bitter Lake, officials will decide whether the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship hauling goods from Asia to Europe would continue to its original destination of Rotterdam or head to another port for repairs.

The crisis cast a spotlight on the vital trade route that carries over 10% of global trade, including 7% of the world’s oil. Over 19,000 ships ferrying Chinese-made consumer goods and millions of barrels of oil and liquified natural gas flow through the artery from the Middle East and Asia to Europe and North America.

The unprecedented shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, has prompted new questions about the shipping industry, an on-demand supplier for a world under pressure from the pandemic.

“We’ve gone to this fragile, just-in-time shipping that we saw absolutely break down in the beginning of COVID,” said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com. “We used to have big, fat warehouses in all the countries where the factories pulled supplies. … Now these floating ships are the warehouse.”

International trade expert Jeffrey Bergstrand predicted “only a minor and transitory effect” on prices of U.S. imports.

“Since most of the imports blocked over the last week are heading to Europe, U.S. consumers will likely see little effect on prices of U.S. imports, except to the extent that intermediate products of U.S. final goods are made in Europe,” said Bergstrand, professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.