Lake Travis area receives brunt of storm, including suspected tornado

5:01 p.m Sunday, April 2, 2017 Local
Travis County sheriff’s officials say a deputy saw a tornado that ripped the roof off of this house on Venture Boulevard in Point Venture along Lake Travis. CLAIRE OSBORN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Karen Rego barely had time to seek shelter in her bathroom Sunday morning before the roof above the living room was ripped off of her house.

Sheriff’s officials and neighbors said it was a tornado that hit the Village of Point Venture on Lake Travis, tearing 50-year-old trees out of the ground in a nearby park and damaging every property belonging to the Point Venture Property Owners Association, including its golf course and the Gnarly Gar restaurant, which had been reopened at its new location for only two weeks.

Despite the damage, no injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service has not confirmed the tornado but sent crews to survey the Lake Travis area Sunday.

The same storm system later Sunday produced a suspected tornado in Louisiana that flipped a mobile home off its foundation, killing a mother and her 3-year-old, The Associated Press reported. It said the storms were likely to cause significant wind damage near the Interstate 20 corridor in East Texas and Louisiana into Sunday night.

When they first reached the Austin area about 9 a.m., the storms were strong but not as powerful as some forecasters had projected.

An inch to an inch and a half of rain fell across most of the region, with about 3 to 4 inches in Llano and Burnet counties northwest of Austin. Some quarter-size hail accompanied the rain, forecasters said.

Scattered power outages occurred across Austin and western Travis County, according to Austin Energy and the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. The Bastrop-based Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative tallied 29 storm-related outages affecting nearly 1,400 customers.

Aside from the reported tornado in the Lake Travis area, county officials across Central Texas said the fallout from the storm was minimal.

“There are limbs down and maybe a little bit of roof damage,” Williamson County spokeswoman Connie Watson said. “It’s widespread across the county. There’s not one particular area more damaged than others.”

The Oasis restaurant on Lake Travis was closed Sunday after storm winds shattered the glass panels on its outdoor balcony and a retractable roof window on the third floor crashed into the courtyard below, said executive director Virginia Ramsey.

At the Gnarly Gar, high winds ripped off part of the restaurant’s roof, blew out its garage doors, and caused the fire suppression system to go off and flood the interior, property owners association manager Tania Spikes said. The group had just spent $1.2 million to buy the structure for the restaurant and renovate it.

Rego, a 59-year-old singer, said her granddaughter called Sunday morning, concerned about the storm. Rego said she looked out a second-story window about 9:30 a.m. and saw the winds were picking up, so she decided to seek shelter downstairs.

“As soon as I got to the hallway, it was like a big explosion happened and all the windows shattered and the wood was flying and the roof peeled off, and I ran back into the bathroom and crawled into the shower,” she said. “When the noise stopped, I got up and like half of my house was gone.”

As she spoke, some neighbors stopped by in a golf cart asking if she needed a place to stay.

“This is a great neighborhood,” Rego said. She said she plans to rebuild and will stay with friends in the meantime.

Spikes said she hopes the Gnarly Gar will open for business again in a few weeks. Workers were already cleaning up Sunday afternoon.

Todd Hynes, who owns the restaurant, said he was “completely shocked and surprised” when he saw what the storm had done.

“We should be in pretty good shape, although we did lose a few tables on the deck, but we will be doing our best to get back open,” he said.

Point Venture residents said the reported tornado peeled the roof off of the pool house and part of an office building, both owned by the association. The high winds also damaged two parts of the walkway at the Point Venture Marina but left every boat untouched, Spikes said.

“We were lucky,” Spikes said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Artists setting up for the 67th annual Art City Austin festival Sunday morning also were rocked by the storms.

Just after 9 a.m., 55-mph winds took out all the fences surrounding the Palmer Events Center, damaging several pieces of art, festival director Jade Walker said.

The festival’s start was delayed two hours as artists banded together to pick up broken glass and fish tents out of the pond.

“There’s nothing like holding onto a metal rod during a lightning storm and thinking, ‘Just save the art!’ ” festival volunteer Nicole Goad said as the clouds parted Sunday afternoon, making way for sun.

Clear skies are predicted for the remainder of the week in the Austin area.

Southwesterly winds Monday will boost temperatures to a high of about 87 degrees. Lows at night will drop to around 58. This weather pattern will continue Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, until northwest winds cool temperatures to the mid-70s Wednesday.

Sunny skies are expected through Sunday.

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