After a night of turbulent storms across metro Atlanta, cleanup efforts and assessments began Wednesday in Rockdale County, where a tornado touched down and left a path of destruction.

The storms, which were part of a deadly system that swept across several states late Tuesday, caused widespread damage throughout Georgia and left thousands without power. A second tornado was also confirmed in Crisp County, south of Macon.

But the hardest hit area was near Conyers, where strong winds toppled powerlines and uprooted trees that crashed into homes, sending affected residents into a scramble for safety just before midnight. The National Weather Service confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the EF-2 tornado, which touched down at around 11:54 p.m. Tuesday, had maximum winds of 115 mph.

Only two minor injuries were reported, according to the Rockdale Sheriff’s Office. One was the result of a tree falling on a house, and the other from a tree falling on a vehicle.

The tornado hit the ground southwest of Conyers and then tracked to the northeast of Olde Town Conyers for nearly 10 miles, damaging at least 30 houses, the NWS said. The twister lifted at about 12:06 a.m. near the intersection of North Tower Way and Ga. 138.

One local resident, who resides on Briarwood Drive, was resigned to living out of her car after her home’s roof was destroyed.

“My living room has been impaled by a tree,” Carolyn Gillman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Carolyn Gillman has to stay in her car now on Briarwood Circle with her cat after a tree smashed through her house.

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

She said she was looking out her window at “this beautiful lightning storm” as she got ready for bed Tuesday night when her electricity started flickering.

“All of a sudden, the lights start turning off and on,” Gillman said. “It gave me this odd feeling. You know, my mom always said, ‘With bad weather, you get in the middle of the house.’ So I got in that bathroom, sat there in the bathroom and just hoped and prayed and listened to the sound ... (it) came quick — and sudden.”

American Red Cross disaster assessment teams were in the area Wednesday to help those in need with emergency supplies and recovery. Fortunately, Rockdale schools are on spring break this week, and a spokesperson said there was no damage to schools or facilities.

For Gillman, she said the roaring winds died down after about a minute, but “it felt like forever.” Once the sound dissipated, she heard rain coming into her house.

“I just knew that that big ‘whoosh’ that I heard, that big crash I heard was the tree coming through,” she said. “I peeked down my hallway, and sure enough, half my house is under a tree.”

Across the country, at least 16 tornadoes had been reported in several states, including Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee, according to the NWS Storm Prediction Center. In northeastern Oklahoma, three suspected tornadoes were blamed for the death of a 46-year-old homeless woman in Tulsa who was sheltering inside a drainage pipe, The Associated Press reported.

On McDaniel Mill Road near Conyers, Denise Johnson said she was just getting out of the shower Tuesday night when she heard the wind chimes banging on her front porch — she knew it was a tornado. She’d just heard a meteorologist say, “McDaniel Mill Road, take cover now.”

She and her twin boys got in a small bathroom and waited for the storm to pass.

Denise Johnson stands outside her Conyers-area home after a large tree fell amid strong storms that spurred a tornado Tuesday just before midnight.

Credit: Jillian Price

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Credit: Jillian Price

“It didn’t last a long time, maybe five minutes,” Johnson said. “When I walked out, I saw the tree down, and my kids (were) screaming, ‘It’s raining in our room.’”

Their house was still standing, but the damage was evident, and a tree had also fallen on her car. “But we’re safe, we’re not hurt,” she said.

On Wolverton Court, a small side street off McDaniel Mill Road, Tijuana Harris was awakened Tuesday night by her husband yelling for her to get up to go downstairs. She didn’t even have time to get her glasses as their house “felt like it was shaking — rumbling,” she said. “All of this noise, the winds were really, really strong.”

The couple ran to a downstairs bathroom until the strong winds passed.

“We were so afraid,” Harris said. Then, her husband told her, “’Baby, the tree! The tree is on the house,’” she said. “The floors were wet, glass was on the floors, and my dog wasn’t saying a word.”

Harris said she’s thankful they survived and were unharmed. “This is just stuff. We can get more stuff,” she said.

The line of thunderstorms reached North Georgia around 9 p.m. Tuesday and began to hit metro Atlanta about an hour later. In areas along I-20 and south of it, a cluster of intense storms approached around 11 p.m. The downpours then moved slightly northeast through DeKalb County and into Gwinnett County and other areas in the northeast metro before shifting southeast toward Rockdale.

Amanda Little, another McDaniel Mill Road resident, said she and her dog were startled by the rumble of the wind. At one point, she opened her front door amid the storm, and the wind jerked the door out of her hand.

“Everything was flying everywhere,” she said. “I shouldn’t have went outside, but I did.”

Amanda Little weathered a tornado at her home near Conyers just before midnight Tuesday.

Credit: Jillian Price

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Credit: Jillian Price

Little’s power was still out Wednesday afternoon as she and her family assessed the damage to their property. Georgia Power and Georgia EMC crews worked steadily to get electricity restored to many areas, with the majority of outages centered in Rockdale. Power was mostly restored across the state by about 8 p.m.

Several roads were closed in the area at times Wednesday, including McDaniel Mill Road, Milstead Avenue, Dennard Road, Ebenezer Road and Jefferson Drive, Channel 2 reported.

The Salvation Army was providing meals Wednesday at Fire Station 6 on Hurst Road, including Chick-fil-A sandwiches. A hot meal from Cracker Barrel was scheduled to be provided at 6:30 p.m.

In South Georgia, the NWS confirmed that an EF-1 tornado touched down in the western part of Crisp County just southwest of Cordele. Winds there reached up to 100 mph, and the agency is still working to determine the exact path of the twister.

Sheriff H.W. “Billy” Hancock told the AJC that severe weather tore into the eastern shore of Lake Blackshear and a neighborhood near Georgia Veterans State Park. He added that the brunt of the storm thrashed a lakeside community along Cedar Creek, an inlet about 10 miles west of I-75. Only minor injuries were reported, and at least 36 homes were impacted. Nineteen of them sustained major damage.

Anyone needing help was asked to call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767). The agency is accepting donations to help those in Rockdale and elsewhere. They can be made online through, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS, or texting REDCROSS to 90999.

Staff writers David Aaro, Michael E. Kanell, Martha Dalton, Joe Kovac, Alexis Stevens and Caroline Silva contributed to this article.

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