A tornado that decimated a neighborhood north of West Point on Sunday morning has been confirmed as an EF3, the National Weather Service announced.
Less severe EF1 and EF0 tornadoes were also confirmed in Baldwin and Twiggs counties, respectively, the NWS said Wednesday.
On the Enhanced Fujita scale, an EF3 tornado is considered strong, with wind speeds ranging from 136-165 mph. The EF3 in Troup County near the Alabama state line is estimated to have peaked at wind speeds of about 150 mph with a maximum width of 500 yards cutting a path more than 20 miles long.
At least five people were injured in the storm, and damage assessments are still being conducted, the NWS said.
According to the NWS, the tornado first touched down near the Chattahoochee River at about 6:50 a.m. It rapidly intensified from EF0 to EF3 as it moved into northern West Point, the NWS report said.
Much of the worst damage took place in the early part of the tornado’s path around West Point Road, in the area of First Avenue and Samples Road. Several houses were leveled, healthy trees uprooted and cars flipped. As the tornado moved from west to east, it passed about ¾ of a mile south of the Kia manufacturing plant, the NWS report said.
The tornado lost some intensity but continued to cause damage to homes, eventually crossing over I-185 and hitting the Pine Mountain Animal Safari attraction, where it damaged the tiger enclosure. At least one tiger escaped but was quickly returned to its habitat, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
The storm then crossed into the Cherokee Resort Club on the line between Troup and Meriwether counties, the NWS report said. Sections of the resort saw EF2-level winds, and more than 40 cabins were damaged, including a few that were completely destroyed.
Once the tornado crossed into Meriwether, it rapidly weakened and dissipated at about 7:20 a.m.
Minutes after the first tornado ended, an EF1 formed about 95 miles east in Baldwin County, the NWS report said. That tornado quickly spun up to its maximum intensity and hit Oconee Regional Medical Center in Milledgeville, blowing out some of the hospital’s windows and damaging the roof. The less severe tornado cut a path about 150 yards wide and a little under seven miles long.
After hitting the hospital, the tornado traveled through an industrial area and damaged multiple warehouses and other facilities. Several large truck trailers were blown over. Preliminary estimates from the NWS show at least 25 homes and 10 businesses were impacted.
The third and least severe tornado touched down in Twiggs County, about 20 miles south of Milledgeville. Trees and powerlines were affected, but no structures were damaged.
Henri Hollis is a reporter for the breaking news team. Formerly a freelance writer and photographer working with the food and dining section, he began covering breaking news full-time in January 2021. He is a lifelong Atlantan and a graduate of Georgia Tech.