Even though a tornado destroyed his 85-foot grain elevator and blew off nearly half the roof on one of his broiler houses, Jack Coleman is thankful he’s alive to talk about it.
“That’s what you got insurance for, things like that. It’s all replaceable,” Coleman said Tuesday, days after a powerful thunderstorm rocked his farm in Paradise Township, Lancaster County.
The freak storm, which the National Weather Service confirmed spawned a tornado packing winds of between 100 and 110 mph, damaged numerous farms along a narrow, 16-mile stretch of land from Fern Glen in the southern part of the county to just north of Paradise Township.
Leon Ressler, regional Extension director, said damage was mostly isolated and that widespread crop damage had not been reported as of Wednesday.
Some farmers dodged a bullet. Bob Esbenshade, who raises 8,000 turkeys on 60 acres in Paradise Township, heard a lot of wind but that was the extent of it.
“We didn’t get any damage at the farm. I didn’t know about it until the next day,” Esbenshade said.
It was a different story half of a mile away on Coleman’s farm.
The storm came through just after 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19.
Coleman was riding a piece of equipment at his adjoining corn maze and agritainment business, Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, just before the storm hit. The power went out 15 minutes before the storm arrived, which he said allowed people visiting the farm to either leave or take shelter in more sturdy buildings.
“It was dark, I know that,” he said.
Very little damage was done to the agritainment business, besides a few tents being blown over.
“A lot of guests that were here Saturday didn’t know anything happened, other than the missing tents,” he said.
But parts of his farm got a direct hit from the storm.
About 200 feet of the roof on his 44-by-500-foot broiler house was blown off.
An adjoining litter shed lost half its roof.
And an 85-foot grain elevator was destroyed.
Coleman estimates total damage is around $150,000.
None of the broilers were hurt, he said, as the ceiling in the house was not damaged.
But as in many cases where natural disasters come through, the community came together to lend a hand.
Numerous people showed up at the farm last weekend to help out, Coleman said, and by Tuesday morning, the roof on the broiler house was back on.
Randy Gockley, director of Lancaster County Emergency Management, said he was amazed at how the farming community came together in the aftermath of the storm.
“The one thing that struck me, those people, particularly within the Mennonite and Amish faith, within 12 hours of the storm going through, they had already started to clean up,” Gockley said. “They were cleaning up the aftermath, saving what they could.”
Gockley said numerous farms were damaged by the storm. All told, he estimated total damage between $5 million and $7 million.
“There were numerous barns that we saw that were totally destroyed. In some cases, some fairly large barns to chicken houses being destroyed,” he said, adding that the storm is a reminder for farmers to prepare themselves for potentially dangerous weather with such things as battery operated weather radios to stay on top of potentially dangerous weather.
The storm also damaged the farm equipment repair shop run by Gerald Sensenig, who owns Metzler & Johnson Farm Equipment Repair near Buck, about 10 miles south of Lancaster City.
Winds pushed an outside facing wall three feet into the building where he runs his business, knocking over shelves full of parts and supplies.
He rents the building from farmer Dave Beyers.
An overhead door was also destroyed.
Meanwhile, a barn behind the shop was heavily damaged. The barn, according to Sensenig, was used by Beyers to store hay and equipment.
The shop, which usually opens early on Saturday, opened later in the day to give Sensenig and his employees time to get things cleaned up.
“It just blew a lot of stuff around,” Sensenig said. “By Monday, we pretty much resumed business. We were still working on some things yet Monday morning.”