AMITE — Richard Cutrer was more than a mile past the railroad tracks on La. 16 when he heard a noise like iron wheels on steel rails bearing down behind him as he crossed the Tangipahoa River east of Amite early Tuesday afternoon.
Knowing he couldn’t outrun the winds, Cutrer said his first instinct was to get out of his truck and take cover under the bridge. But the tornado snatched the driver side door out of his hands, yanking it back on its hinges and sucking the rear glass out of his truck.
Cutrer said he could feel the wind pressure tugging at his body, threatening to rip him from the seat.
“I just thought, ‘Lord, if it’s my time, then I guess I’m going,’ ” Cutrer recalled Wednesday. “But thank the Lord, it wasn’t my time.”
Cutrer’s seat belt held fast and he was able to stay in the truck until, only seconds later, the winds moved on, cutting a wide swath of felled pines and power lines from the intersection of La. 16 and La. 1054 toward the northeast.
A team from the National Weather Service was on scene Wednesday to survey the results of the storm, which was estimated to be an EF-2 with maximum winds around 115 mph, NWS meteorologist Danielle Manning said.
The storm’s 4.5-mile path left about 20 homes damaged or destroyed and, at one point, about 4,500 Entergy customers without power Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
Utility crews worked to replace downed poles and repair power lines Wednesday, while tree crews continued to remove trunks and debris from roadways, rooftops and yards.
Amite Fire Chief Bruce Cutrer said he was at the office when the 911 call from Richard Cutrer, a distant relative and volunteer with the fire department, came in about the tornado.
Bruce Cutrer’s home on Leander Lane, just northeast of the intersection of La. 16 and La. 1054, was right in the path of the storm. He called his wife, who had left the house for a few minutes, and warned her about the weather. But the tornado had already done its damage by the time either of them returned to the house.
Trees and debris blocked the lane. Roofs, outbuildings and travel trailers were destroyed. But the damage was far from uniform.
Wind chimes remained hanging on Bruce Cutrer’s front porch, but the hummingbird feeder that had been next to it was found yards away in a field.
The trailer for a 12-foot flat-bottom boat sat in Bruce Cutrer’s front yard, more than 1,000 feet from his son’s shed, where it had been parked.
“We haven’t found the boat yet,” Bruce Cutrer said Wednesday morning. “It’s such a strange phenomenon, how a tornado destroys one thing and leaves safe the next.”
Bruce Cutrer said he broke down when he first saw the destruction to his and his relatives’ and neighbors’ homes. He went from house to house, calling out for anyone who might be there, but only two families had been home when the storm hit and none were injured.
“God was truly with us,” Bruce Cutrer said. “We got some damage, but no one was killed.”
Family, friends and strangers worked together Wednesday to restore order to the chaos and salvage what remained. Mary Cutrer said it was heartwarming when Chuck Rick, of Cypress Mill, showed up with chainsaw crews “rolling in like an army” at 7 a.m. to spend their Christmas Eve day helping her family.
Nearby, Tangipahoa Parish School Board President Andy Anderson was speaking with an adjuster about the damage to his home, on the corner of La. 16 and La. 1054.
Anderson said he was in his living room watching television when the tornado alert sounded Tuesday. Home alone while his family was out shopping, Anderson ran to a bathroom and hunkered down in the tub, as the winds howled above him and ripped a hole in the roof of the attic over his head.
“I looked up and there was sky,” Anderson said. “It was pretty serious.”
Anderson estimated the damage to his home would be around $50,000 and said he lost more than 30 pine trees on his property, but he said he was thankful it wasn’t worse.
“I could’ve been killed,” he said. “My family could’ve been home and they could’ve been hurt.”
Bruce Cutrer said recovering from a storm like Tuesday’s tornado is always difficult, but the timing right before Christmas made it even more so.
“But we’ll all pull together, and we’re still gonna have Santa Claus,” he said.