Atlanta weather | Paulding hit hardest with homes, school, airport damaged

Emergency management officials said more than 100 homes in Paulding received either minor or moderate damage from the storm that pounded the county and other parts of metro Atlanta on Friday evening and overnight. The county's airport and an elementary school also were hard hit.

Authorities said the storm left one person dead locally, an Alpharetta woman identified as Patricia Barnett, 83. Barnett's body was found in a creek early Saturday after more than two dozen Alpharetta emergency personnel searched for the woman, who was reported missing late Friday. They believe she had climbed into a drain pipe to escape the storm.

The same storm system that rocked metro Atlanta also  left death and destruction from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Authorities said more than 30 people were killed in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

The skies  gradually cleared Saturday in metro Atlanta with cooler temperatures moving in and windier conditions. Sunny skies were expected Sunday and Monday with highs in the mid 50s but much colder nighttime temperatures, in the upper 30s. Winds both days will be 20 to 30 mph.

The storms kept sirens blaring and left trees and power lines down in parts of metro Atlanta. At least 9,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity at one point before power was gradually restored.  Georgia EMC also was restoring electricity to its customers who lost power, mostly in Paulding.

Paulding damage assessed

Damage was reported in Cobb and Haralson counties, but Paulding appeared to receive the brunt of the hit from unconfirmed reports of at least one tornado.

“Fortunately, there have been no injuries and deaths reported for Paulding County,”  sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Ashley Henson said.

MaryAnn Phipps, spokeswoman for Paulding Emergency Management and Fire Department, said the damage was extensive.

“We are still assessing the damage,” Phipps said. “The power company is trying to restore power so we can begin the cleanup.” She also said the county is working with the Red Cross to determine if shelters need to be set up.

As of Saturday evening, the county said 70 homes received minor damage and 58 homes sustained moderate damage. Nine homes suffered major damage. One church, Wayside Baptist Church on Wayside Lane, also had minor damage.

At Wayside Baptist Church on Wayside Lane, the storm toppled the steeple and some of the surrounding trees.

About 50 to 75 neighbors and church members cleared the road of tree debris in front of the church so power crews could pass through.

Pastor Billy Bell used a chainsaw to help cut trees blocking the road.

Damage at Poole Elementary

At Poole Elementary School, one wing lost 60 percent of its roof, Paulding Superintendent Cliff Cole said. The school building received structural damage and six modular classrooms were destroyed. Cole said some classrooms sustained water damage.

Inspectors were at the school Saturday, assessing whether the building would be safe for students Monday, Cole said. Students may be shifted to other areas of the school or moved to another school, he said.

“My first thought is the fact that it wasn’t during the day with the kids,” said Poole Principal Angie Capobianco. “That’s a blessing. I just feel so fortunate that it didn’t happen during the day.”

Capobianco said that the trailers that were destroyed were not currently being used as classrooms. “We just had storage in there,” she said.

“We’re a tough community, a tough school,” she said.”We’ll all come together and we’ll get this cleaned up. The main thing is no lives were taken.”

There were earlier reports from the county that Ragsdale Elementary School also sustained damage but Phipps confirmed the school was not damaged.

Poole Elementary also serves as a satellite church for West Ridge Church in Dallas, but no services will be held there Sunday.

West Ridge was organizing volunteers Saturday to assist with cleanup and was accepting donations of non-perishable food items, water and clothing for those affected by the storm. The church's website, www.westridge.com, has more information about the efforts.

Millions in damage to airport

Damage reports to Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport varied during much of the morning, but Phipps was able to provide a firmer assessment.

One hangar was completely destroyed at the airport and 17 planes that were inside the hangar received light damage. Five planes on the airport’s runway were destroyed and there was roof and water damage to the terminal.

Airport Director Blake Swafford said the damages to aircraft alone will total $5 million. One plane alone, a corporate aircraft housed at the airport, was worth upwards of $1.2 million, Swafford said.

Damage to the airport's other buildings could reach $2 million, he said.

“There’s a good bit of metal missing off the roof of the building and some windows are busted out,”  Swafford said of the terminal.

“All the fencing is damaged, all of the light posts are damaged, basically everything is damaged,” Swafford said of the airport off U.S. 278. “We’re going go be a very, very long time cleaning up a huge mess and starting over.”

Debris from the storm was scattered up to a half mile around the airport.

Victims find onlookers annoying

Damage was also extensive on Thorn Thicket Way in the Southern Trace neighborhood in Rockmart, where roofs were ripped off, windows were shadowed and walls were leveled.

As resident Anthony Duncan surveyed the damage, he was annoyed at the stream of vehicles passing by with onlookers trying to get a glimpse of the destruction.

"I know people want to know, but it's a shame,” Duncan told Channel 2 Action News. "People that live on this street can't even get out ... for the people that just want to see."

Paulding Sheriff Gary Gulledge said deputies are asking residents to stay away from storm-damaged areas if possible. Deputies will also be on alert for any looting, with Gulledge said will not be tolerated.

Not officially a "tornado"

The destruction in western Paulding has not been officially blamed on a tornado.

At an afternoon news conference to discussing the damage, county commission Chairman David Austin said the southwest side of the county was hit first Friday night, with homes in two neighborhoods damaged before the storm moved toward the city of Dallas.

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey reminded those gathered that it was just three years ago that the area suffered from an epic flood.

"This county has had some bad luck," Gingrey said. "This is a tough community."

The storm could have been worse if it had moved through more populated areas of Paulding, such as Hiram or East Paulding.

Damage in other areas

In other parts of metro Atlanta, damage reports came in  from east Cobb, where trees and power lines were downed in the area of Ga. 120 and Providence Road, and from Haralson, where rescue crews worked for some two hours to free a man trapped in his collapsed home.

The unidentified Haralson man was pulled from his  Bethany Church Road home,  where only the chimney was left standing.

Friends of the unidentified man told Channel 2 Action News that he went into his basement during the storm and took his cell phone when the two-story structure collapsed, pinning him and breaking one of his legs. He was able to call neighbors for help.

Haralson EMA Director Brian Walker told Channel 2 that two other homes in the county were damaged, along with a church.

In Fayette County, a lightning strike left a hole in the roof of a home before 1 a.m. Saturday, according to emergency management officials.

The risk of severe storms began to diminish from the northwest around 12:30 a.m. Saturday and the Weather Service started dropping counties in extreme north Georgia from a tornado watch. By 3:30 a.m., the watch was lifted for all of metro Atlanta except the southern suburbs.

Shelter assistance available

Paulding County residents needing assistance with shelter due to damage left by the severe weather should call (770) 445-2117, according to the Paulding Emergency Management and Fire Department.

Staff photographer Johnny Crawford contributed to this article.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.