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'It was like a train': Customers, employees run for cover at Hobe Sound shopping plaza

'The sky was green and it started getting really windy and getting really swirly,' Jessica Stephens says
Posted at 5:36 PM, Jun 12, 2024

HOBE SOUND, Fla. — Customers and employees ran for cover from the severe weather that tore through the Market Place shopping plaza on Bridge Road in Hobe Sound on Wednesday.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said no one was hurt, but folks there described a terrifying experience.

"The sky was green and it started getting really windy and getting really swirly and I was like, 'Yeah, we need to go inside,'" said Winn-Dixie employee Jessica Stephens.

She and her coworker, Briana Silvestro, sprinted for safety when they saw the winds and rain rip through the plaza, taking with it shopping carts and branches.

"It looked like a tornado. Worse than when a hurricane hits," Silvestro said. "It was a lot of wind, it was a lot of damage."

Storm damage on Bridge Road in Hobe Sound on June 13, 2024.jpg

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"It was like a train going through," added Stephens.

Just a few storefronts down, Matthew Thompkins of Fisher Contracting captured the storm on camera, and caught the moment powerful gusts pick up a metal fence and fling it across the shopping plaza parking lot.

In harrowing video, you then see Thompkins run for cover.

"We're in the middle of a tornado!" Thompkins can be heard saying on camera.

The aftermath was equally unexpected. Shopping carts were upended, signs were pulled off their posts, tree limbs littered the parking lot pavement, fences lie flat and car windows were shattered from broken branches.

Worker Lorie Patterson's back window included.

"I wish I didn't come to work today," Patterson said.

Stacy Ritchey June 2024 Hobe Sound tornado.png
Stacy Ritchey talks about how downed tree branches narrowly missed her car on June 12, 2024.

An even bigger branch just barely missed Winn-Dixie employee Stacy Ritchey's car.

"You must feel lucky!" said WPTV's Kate Hussey.

"I don't know yet, I'm too scared!" replied Ritchey. "We had carts flying all over the parking lot, our signs for curbside pick up were down and blowing with the rain and wind, very scary.”

It was a close call for Jarrell Swift and her two granddaughters, Amber Lee and Gracie Swift, who came by the plaza to check out the damage.

"We were in the mobile home and the phones were going off and the TV was going off and I was screaming cause I was scared," said Amber Lee Swift. "She [Jarrell] told me, 'Grab the dogs, grab the leash, grab the towel,' and we hurried up."

"We just took off and went to the clubhouse," added Jarrell Swift.

WATCH: Martin County sheriff talks storm damage

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder talks storm damage in Hobe Sound

Swift said their mobile home made it through the storm without damage, but accountant Paul Fensinger wasn't so lucky.

"I was down here when I heard it, and I got down on the floor here," said Feinsinger, showing WPTV his office couch where he hid.

Winds blew in his windows and scattered his papers, among other damage.

"My mailbox is gone, I had a big sign out in front, that’s gone, I don't know where that is," said Feinsinger.

Soon after the storm, cleanup commenced. Folks started clearing out the flattened fences and picking up strewn debris. Fensinger even found his sign.

Yet all hoped the daunting downpour still drenching the area would dry out soon.

"We're shaky ,but we're all safe now and I hope they clean this up soon," said Amber Lee Swift.

Despite significant damage to trees and cars in the parking lot, the Winn Dixie isn't reporting any damage inside the store.

The store is still open and operating, and for that, at least, folks said they were grateful.