Sarah Radney, 11, was killed when strong winds hit her grandparents’ home in southwest Georgia. Her funeral was held on Monday. Family photo

Devastation, heartbreak in southwest Georgia in Michael’s wake

The funeral for an 11-year-old killed when part of her house collapsed was Monday. Storm damage estimates top $1 billion

Chicken coops are smashed to bits. Trees are horizontal. Farm acreage has turned into lakes in some spots.

Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle at Category 4 strength last week, then lurched into Georgia still a Category 3 with 115 mph winds. Days later, the Georgia National Guard was handing out food and water in about a dozen counties while local authorities worked to restore power. Damage to farmers is expected to top $1 billion.

In Cairo, the family of Sarah Radney, who died when strong winds struck her grandparents’ house near Lake Seminole, held a graveside service for the 11-year-old. Their church has been operating as a comfort station, serving meals and offering air conditioning, showers and bathrooms.

“A piece of my heart was taken,” Sarah’s grandfather, Roy Radney, said in a social media post. “She was the life of the party. She loved God first, then family, then others. She had pure joy in all she did and she brought much joy to others. I loved her and would have taken her place. It should have been me and not her.”

Related coverage:

Dramatic footage shows Hurricane Michael’s destructive path through southwest Georgia

See more of the AJC’s coverage of Hurricane Michael

President Trump, First Lady tour storm-damaged Florida, Georgia

Sarah’s parents took their five other children to the Thomasville Belk store on Saturday for funeral attire.

“Roy really wasn’t sure how to properly shop for a suit and how to make sure it fit properly. So, he asked for help,” Sarah’s aunt, Kimberly Hendrix, said in a post to the online fundraising page she set up for the family. “The sales rep asked a few questions about what occasion the suits were for. After Roy told her, she excused herself for a moment.”

The store manager then came out and told the Radneys there would be no cost for their somber shopping trip.

“Roy insisted on paying but the manager wouldn’t take the money,” Hendrix said.

The region hardest-hit by Michael in southwest Georgia is where most of Georgia’s row crops, such as ever-important peanuts and cotton, are concentrated, along with pecan trees and vegetable crops. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Agriculture Commissioner's Office; gallery caption information from Joshua Sharpe/AJC)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed the account on Monday, the day President Donald Trump, Gov. Nathan Deal and other officials toured storm-ravaged areas of Georgia and Florida. Michael pounded southwest Georgia and battered a wide swath of the state’s midsection. At one point, 247 routes were impassable, although most had reopened by Monday.

With decades-old pecan trees torn to the ground and huge amounts of cotton destroyed, rebuilding could be a long, slow process.

“Our worst dreams are being realized,” said Georgia Agriculture Secretary Gary Black. “There’s going to be a lot of work to do.”

AJC reporters Ben Brasch and David Wickert contributed to this article.

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