At least one death and numerous injuries were reported Wednesday as storms, including a tornado, hit parts of Bartow, Gordon and other northwest Georgia counties, leaving destruction and power outages in their wake.
Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in Bartow and Gordon counties, the hardest hit by the storms. The declaration frees up state resources to respond to the storm damage.
Officials said an Adairsville man died when a tree crushed his Bartow home on Poplar Springs Road. That man was identified as 51-year-old Anthony Raines, Bartow County Coroner Joel Guyton said.
Resident Chris Silver told Channel 2 Action News that he tried to help Raines but couldn’t.
“A tree fell on his roof in his bedroom and it squished him,” Silver said. “I just want to pray for all the families that got hurt and all the people who got disaster in their house, and God bless ‘em.”
There were at least 17 injuries in both counties.
The tornado left people trapped in heavily damaged homes and buildings, vehicles flipped in neighborhoods and on I-75, and trees and power lines down. Up to 100 homes were damaged, according to Channel 2 Action News.
“That sounded like a train,” Dorothy Wilkey told her grandchildren and daughter-in-law as the tornado hit Adairsville at midday. “I’ve never, in my entire life, experienced something like this.”
The storms also caused flooding on metro Atlanta streets. More than an inch of rain was reported in Kennesaw, Mableton, Dunwoody and Alpharetta. The Paulding County Fire/Rescue and Emergency Management Agency said portions of multiple roads were closed due to flooding or standing water.
Thousands of Georgians were still without power Wednesday night. Georgia Power said about 20,000 customers were without electricity across the state as of 11 p.m. Nearly half of those customers were in the northwest. Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives said about 11,000 of its customers in west and north Georgia without power at 7 p.m. That number was down from 14,000 earlier in the day.
The Georgia State Patrol said it worked 83 crashes between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday at the height of the fierce weather, but the authorities did not know how many of the accidents were weather-related. The crashes left 33 injured but no fatalities.
Much colder weather will move into North Georgia following the storms, with daytime highs only in the 40s leading up to the weekend.
Destruction in Adairsville
The tornado that hit Adairsville appeared to be massive based on video a Channel 2 Action News team captured as the funnel cloud moved across town, which is about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta.
Adairsville Police Chief Robert Jones estimated the tornado was about a quarter-mile wide and was on the ground for about two miles. He said police were still going door-to-door in the affected area speaking with residents to determine how many may have been injured.
Charley English of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said teams were working on a search-and-rescue mission but that the “life-saving” part of the response was almost over. English said it was too early to report whether anyone is missing late Wednesday but added no one has been reported “unaccounted for.”
Denice Christian, 48, has lived her entire life in Adairsville and said she can’t remember storm damage this severe.
“This is the worst I’ve seen in all my life,” Christian said. “We see this in other states, but today it hit home.”
Christian says she told her adult daughter and her parents to leave their home and get to hers because she thought it would be safer. She was right.
Christian’s daughter, Quintoria Mabala, lives in a house that’s more than 100 years old on Martin Luther King Drive with her grandparents.
A storm that took only about three minutes to do its damage blew out the windows in the home, pulled siding off and snapped huge trees in half.
“My house was shaking,” Christian said. “The pictures on the wall, the glass in the windows, everything.”
Wednesday afternoon, Mabala was gathering her belongings, planning to spend the night at Christian’s home. As the rain continued to fall, Mabala and her mom were among others on the street checking on each other. Many of the residents on the street are life-long residents.
“It don’t matter who’s mad at who, everyone is asking, ‘Are you OK?’” Christian said.
Not a quarter mile from U.S. 41, a disaster zone crawling with firefighters and policemen, a family gathered around a sizzling fryer.
It was dinner time in Adairsville and Bill Kelley wasn’t going to let his family go hungry, tornado or no tornado.
He pulled a propane tank and the fryer from the storage building – or what was left of it – behind his house. It was chicken wings and French fries in the carport.
His wife Alecha and their granddaughter, Meichianna, were home when the tornado blasted through town.
“There were no sirens – I don’t think they had time,” said the grandmother. “I heard the storm, the rumblings. It’s like a train right next to you. I don’t ever want to hear it again.”
Daiki Corp., a large manufacturing plant in Adairsville, was leveled by the tornado. Employees at a bank next door ran into the vault when the tornado hit, Channel 2 reported.
Phillip Cooper was working at the Daiki plant when everyone was called into the break room around 11:15 a.m., he said. Then, the split-second decision was made to pile into the restrooms.
“They said hit it boys, and we did,” Cooper said. “Everything was popping, cracking and the whole building was shaking.”
Somehow, only one of about 100 employees was injured, and his injuries were not believed life-threatening.
After the storm was over, Cooper and others went outside to look at the damage. Some of the cars that had been in the parking lot were gone, Cooper said. His car wasn’t damaged, but there was no way he could get it out of the parking lot, he said.
Cooper said he did the only thing he knew to do. He started walking. Less than a half-mile away, he was greeted by his very panicked wife at the Relax Inn, where the two have lived in recent months.
Her instinct had told her to get in the closet.
“I got in the closet and prayed and prayed and prayed,” she said.
Neither of the Coopers were injured, but they weren’t able to gather their belongings. A bus took them to a shelter, where they planned to spend the night.
It was the first time either had been through a tornado, and it’s not a day either will forget.
“Today was a changing point in all our lives,” Trish Cooper said.
A disaster shelter was set up at the Manning Mill Youth Facility at 162 Manning Mill Road in Adairsville. Red Cross workers and local officials went into areas that sustained the worst hit, checking for those who needed help. Red Cross officials said 13 people were spending the night at the shelter.
“A majority of the damage was commercial but we’re seeing a significant impact on residential areas,” said Jeffrey Putnam, director of the Northwest Georgia Red Cross chapter. “We’re still getting our hands around the scope of the damage,” Putnam said.
Monetary donations can be made by phone (1-800-RedCross), email (redcross.org), text (90999) and traditional mail (P.O. Box 1955 Monroe Drive, Atlanta, GA 30342).
Donations also can be made to the United Way of Bartow County by calling 770-386-1677, according to the agency’s president, Brenda Morehouse.
“It’s been really hard to get the communication out because cell phone towers are out so all we could do was drive around and tell people about the shelter,” Morehouse said.
Morehouse said her agency is working with other local agencies to help storm victims. She said donations to the United Way of Bartow County will go directly to the victims.
“We can get that to them right now,” Morehouse said.
Around 7 p.m., there was no power at the Manning Mill Gym as about 30 people gathered to stay dry. The Red Cross and Salvation Army teamed up to provide boxed meals. Officials were working to bring in a generator and cots for people to spend the night.
Among those who came for a meal were Kelsee Bray, 11, and her brother Hayden Brayden, 7, who came with their grandmother, Pamela Lee.
“Our whole town was destroyed,” Hayden said.
Kelsee and Hayden were at Adairsville Elementary School when the storm rolled through.
“We had to go in the lunch room and get under the tables,” Hayden said. “And we had to be quiet.”
Lee’s house was structurally fine, but big trees and power lines made a mess of the area.
“We had power lines in our driveway, and we could’ve gotten shocked,” Hayden said.
The family planned to spend the night in a Rome hotel.
Law enforcement from several neighboring counties, including Floyd, Paulding, Chattooga and Gilmer counties, arrived late Wednesday to assist Bartow officials. Cpl. Ashley Henson with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said nine from his agency planned to work overnight, helping enforce the dusk-to-dawn curfew. Henson was paired up with a Bartow County deputy to patrol areas, making sure anyone still needing assistance was able to get it.
Damage, injuries in Gordon
North of Bartow in Gordon County, emergency management Director Richard Cooper reported eight injuries , two of them critical, in the Farmville community. All were in their homes at the time.
“We’re still going door-to-door looking for people who may be hurt,” Cooper said. He said the destruction appears concentrated within an eight to nine-mile radius, from Hwy. 53 heading northeast to Riverbend Road.
“Some of the homes were completely destroyed,” Cooper said. “We’ve experienced pretty extensive damage.”
Numerous trees and power lines were down.
Homeowner Scott Rainwater told Channel 2 that he suffered a broken foot, but returned from the hospital to his home to see the damage.
“What am I trying to salvage? Anything I can salvage, son,” he said.
Three days before Christmas 2011, an EF 3 pounded Gordon County, with winds reaching speeds of up to 150 mph. The Farmville, Gardner Springs, Plainview, Farmville, Sonoraville and Talking Rock communities were hit especially hard. Seven people were injured, none life-threatening. Property damage was extensive.
State Farm Insurance spokesman Justin Tomczak said claims were being reported, with a majority of them coming from Adairsville.
“Catastrophe claim representatives are actively working to gain access to the impacted area to assist our customers,” Tomczak told the AJC. “State Farm customers who suffer damage from this storm should contact their State Farm agent to begin the claim process. Customers can also call 1-800-SFCLAIM or go to statefarm.com to report their claim.”
Cold weather after the storms
After a day of stormy weather, including the deadly tornado, much colder weather is moving into North Georgia, with snow possible in some areas far north, according to Channel 2 meteorologist David Chandley.
A flood watch is in effect until midnight Wednesday for most of northern Georgia from a line running south of Rome through north Fulton County to Blairsville. As the area dries out temperatures will plummet, with a light dusting possible in the mountains.
The wind advisory was extended until 7 a.m. Thursday, Channel 2 Action News chief meteorologist Glenn Burns said.
Thursday and Friday are expected to be sunny and cool with highs in the mid to upper 40s, he said. Lows will be in the low 30s. Temperatures will reach the mid 50s on Saturday and Sunday with partly cloudy skies.
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Staff writers Melissa Abbey, Christian Boone, Angel K. Brooks, Greg Bluestein, Fran Jeffries, Joel Provano, Jason Getz, Kent Johnson and The Associated Press contributed to this article.