Three weeks after a tornado ripped through the community, teachers and staff returned for the first time to Newnan High School to gather their personal belongings, while two Georgia U.S. senators pledged to bring more resources to aid in the recovery.

“The damage is deep and our hearts go out to the families who have found their lives tragically disrupted and are undergoing the kind of displacement that makes life very, very challenging,” U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said during an early afternoon press conference Saturday in front of the tornado-ravaged high school.

Warnock was joined by U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff at the site of the damage caused by a March 26 twister that tore through 39 miles of Heard, Coweta and Fayette counties. Officials say 70 homes were destroyed while there was damage to more than other 1,600 structures. One person died of a heart attack, and others were injured, officials said.

Most of metro Atlanta was spared from major damage, but Bartow and Polk counties — in northwest Georgia — and Coweta County south of Atlanta took the brunt of the impact. The National Weather Service said it was an EF4 tornado with 170 mph winds that hit Coweta.

“We are going to do everything we can to make that the federal government steps up and provides the resources that are needed in this county and in this city,” Warnock said. “We’re going to make sure those resources are delivered in a way that is efficient and responds to the human need that’s on the ground.”

Explore'Catastrophic’ tornado struck high school and city historic district in Newnan

On Saturday, numerous homes were covered in tarps, while bulldozers and disaster relief vehicles continued the daunting work to remove large mounds of debris in front of homes.

A fence blocked off access to the high school while officials assessed the damage and compiled an inventory of losses. Teachers were required to wear hard hats when they entered the buildings.

The senators spent most of the morning touring the high school, which had experienced damage to a dozen buildings.

Students had just arrived back to in-person school a few weeks before the twister. School officials said it’s unlikely that they will be able to return to in-person classes until the fall.

Last month, shortly after the tornado, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an emergency order granting additional state resources to the area. The governor also made a trip to tour the facility to witness the damage.

The senators said they would soon draft a letter to federal emergency management authorities to seek additional recovery funding.

“We have felt and seen the impact of this catastrophe and we will be joining together to ask that federal emergency management authorities deliver the help that this community needs,” Ossoff said.

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School officials and staff who met with Ossoff and Warnock said they were pleased to see the outpouring of support.

“We’re all devastated,” said Lisa Colomb, the principal’s secretary, who arrived on Saturday to collect personal items. “But we have to take care of things. They are our people.”

Teacher Frankey Henderson considered himself one of the lucky ones. The history teacher said he was able to recover from his classroom most of his World War II memorabilia, which included American uniforms, German war helmets, posters and model airplanes.

Newnan High School teacher Frankey Henderson looks over teaching materials that still need to be boxed up in one of the classrooms on Saturday, April  17, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Newnan High School teacher Frankey Henderson looks over teaching materials that still need to be boxed up in one of the classrooms on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Thankfully, my room was OK, except for the water damage,’' said Henderson, who graduated from Newnan and has taught at the school over 20 years. His two children are current students, he said.

Staff members have until Tuesday to pick up their belongings, assistant principal Melvenette Bryant said. It was difficult for many teachers and coaches to come by and witness the wreckage, she said. Many had spent a lot of time in their classrooms, which was their home away from home.

But the Newnan community will heal, Bryant said. “We will all be stronger on the other side of this.”

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