The powerful storm system that swept through the South and Midwest on Friday killed an elderly woman in Alpharetta, police said Saturday, and spawned a twister that tore an estimated 12-mile path of destruction through rural Paulding County.
The damage took seconds, survivors said. The cleanup will take months and cost millions of dollars.
Patricia Barnett, 83, may have sought shelter in a drain pipe late Friday night, police said. Her body was recovered in a creek Saturday morning near her home after an extensive search involving 25 fire and rescue officers.
The storms downed trees and power lines around metro Atlanta, and some residents were still without power Saturday.
In sections of neighborhoods near Rockmart and the Yorkville community in northwest Paulding, residents of smashed homes were reeling from shock Saturday, as friends, volunteers and contractors began cleaning up debris that covered lawns and streets.
Almost 140 homes in the county took some kind of hit, and nine houses were completely destroyed, Paulding Emergency Management and Fire Department spokeswoman MaryAnn Phipps said.
“We’re just so thankful there wasn’t a loss of life,” David Austin, county commission chair, said at the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport.
At Poole Elementary School near Dallas, 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.
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. “I just feel so fortunate that it didn’t happen during the day.”
The storm also did up to $7 million in damage to the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, ripping the roof off the terminal building, flipping five parked planes and gnarling a hangar and damaging 19 planes inside.
Airport Director Blake Swafford said the damages to aircraft alone will total $5 million. One plane, 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. “We’re going go be a very, very long time cleaning up a huge mess and starting over,” he said.
Debris from the storm was scattered up to a half mile around the airport.
Their lives suddenly in chaos, many residents were realizing the value of homeowners insurance, as adjusters took inventory and agents set them up with hotel rooms.
“It’s devastating,” said Southern Trace subdivision homeowner Shawanda Cross, whose roof was torn off by a tornado while she huddled in a bedroom closet with her two Boston Terriers. “At first you’re like, am I dreaming. Then you get to the point where you feel lucky to be alive.”
In another part of the neighborhood, an adjuster told Bill Clifford his two story home can’t be salvaged. While he, his wife and his son hid in a downstairs closet, the tornado tore off the roof and some second-story walls, exposing the upper bedroom. What was left looked like an opened, battered doll house.
“It’s hard to believe it did this in three seconds,” Clifford said, standing in a driveway covered in insulation shards, roof shingles and torn sheetrock and plywood.
Barnett, the only Georgia fatality, was one of more than 30 deaths blamed on the storms.
George Gordon, a spokesman for the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety, said in a release that police received a 911 call about a man’s missing elderly wife.
“The last contact the husband had with his wife is when she told her husband she was going to take shelter in a closet due to the weather,” Gordon said.
Police said they searched the area and tried to locate the woman, who lived on Pine Grove Drive, by tracking the signal from her cell phone, but the device was turned off. The search resumed when the weather cleared early Saturday and the GBI was asked to activate a Mattie’s Call for missing elderly people.
Barnett’s family told Channel 2 Action News they did not know why she left her home. A neighbor, Afraz Talebi, also mourned her loss.
“She was like part of our family,” Talebi told Channel 2. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now.”
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.
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.
By 8 p.m., Georgia’s electric member cooperatives reported fewer than 200 outages in metro Atlanta, down from about 700 earlier in the day.
Georgia Power reported that 624 of its metro Atlanta customers were without power as of 8 p.m. Saturday. As many as 9,000 customers had been without power following the storm.
Staff writer Christopher Seward and Mike Morris contributed to this article.
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