A home in west Pickens shows the effects of the tornadoes which hammered the northwestern corner of the state Wednesday. Advanced warning which pushed many people to take early shelter plus "total luck," according to one emergency official, lead to no significant injuries here in the wake of the violent storms. Photos/ Damon Howell.
By Angela Reinhardt
Thursday morning, residents of the Henderson Mountain Road area surveyed destruction left by tornadoes that ripped through part of west Pickens overnight, destroying numerous homes and flattening three chicken houses.
Families were out in their driveways at late morning beginning the long process of cleaning up damage, cutting up fallen trees and removing belongings from their mangled homes.
The destructive path of the tornadoes was clearly visible through west Pickens. Hundreds of trees were snapped off at the tops, revealing bright white wood inside.
Officials say Bryant Road, Childers Lane and Henderson Mountain Road were the worst hit areas in the county, but despite extensive damage, no serious injuries have been reported.
According to Pickens County Sheriff’s Office Captain Frank Reynolds, it was “total luck” no one was seriously hurt or killed in the storm that struck in waves Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
Residents, neighbors, and contractors begin cleaning up from a massive storm that swept through Georgia Wednesday night. In the above home on Henderson Mountain Road, four people were trapped for more than 30 minutes until emergency crews could get them out. A relative of one of the residents said another part of the house was "just gone."
Hotline established for storm reports
Fire Chief Bob Howard said this morning that there were no significant injuries or missing persons reported in Wednesday night's storm.
The extent of the damage to homes, however, remained unknown. The worst hit area in Pickens County with the massive storms that swept across the south was described as Jerusalem Road to Bryant Road to Childers Lane (off of Henderson Mountain Road).
“This is not a densely populated area,” Howard said. “We’re still assessing the damage to structures.”
Howard was scheduled for a flyover in a GSP helicopter later this morning.
He said emergency personnel did a sweep of the area that was completed at 2 a.m. and found no significant injuries or reports of missing persons.
Howard said he knows of damage to several mobile homes and chicken houses in the area.
Howard said reports from utility companies indicate 1,900 homes without power in Pickens County. He said as of Thursday morning, there is no indication of when they may have power restored. He said the scope of the storm will create problems getting necessary manpower and supplies, such as power poles, to the affected areas.
First reports from across the state indicate that 11 people had been reported killed in Georgia from the tornadoes that hit the hardest to the counties west of Pickens. Gov. Deal has declared some northwest Georgia counties emergency areas.
Hotline – Pickens County has established a hotline to take reports from homeowners of non-emergency storm calls. Howard said this is the place to call to report damage and it will be helpful to their assessment and clean-up efforts. The number is 706-253-1878. He said later in the day the operators there may be able to provide some information, but at this point “the information we have is very limited.”
Power crews are attempting to restore power to more than 1,900 homes in Pickens County without power. No estimation has been given of when they believe service will be restored.
County Road crews move concrete barriers into place Monday on Cove Road where a rockslide stopped traffic April 16.
Commissioner Rob Jones said the barriers should increase safety along the S-curves section of road. No other work is planned at this point, but the commissioner noted the steep rocky roadbed is not unique for North Georgia or the southern Appalachians.
“It was designed and installed by the state DOT in 1964. It’s as safe as it ever was,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Georgia DNR website/photo
Submitted by the Georgia DNR
Chalk up another solid nesting year for bald eagles in Georgia.
Department of Natural Resources aerial surveys in January and March documented 142 occupied nesting territories, 111 successful nests and 175 young fledged. Totals for eaglets and successful nests declined slightly compared to 2010, when the respective counts were 194 and 122. But the number of occupied nests increased from 139 last year.
Each count this year topped 2009 when the statewide search revealed 128 occupied or active territories, 101 successful nests - those in which young are raised to the point they can fly - and 166 eaglets.
Survey leader Jim Ozier said the fluctuations could reflect factors such as harsh weather and sampling error and “are not outside the range we would expect.” His opinion is the state’s bald eagle population is strong.
“I think it will continue to grow,” said Ozier, a program manager in the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
Thanks to conservation laws, restoration work and a ban on the pesticide DDT, bald eagles have rebounded from near-extinction through much of their range 40 years ago. Nests numbered in the single digits in Georgia when Ozier started searching for them more than two decades ago. Nesting territories steadily increased and then surged to 96 in 2006 and beyond 100 in recent years.
Ozier and others are concerned about the impact of Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, or AVM, a neurological disease deadly to waterbirds, mainly coots and bald eagles. One suspected link is that coots ingest a
strain of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae common on submerged aquatic plants - particularly hydrilla - and a toxin in the algae sickens eagles that eat contaminated coots.
Discovered in Arkansas in 1995, AVM has been documented in Georgia at lakes Clarks Hill, Juliette, Varner and West Point, and some small reservoirs near Atlanta. Clarks Hill, also known as J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir, is a hotspot. Eagle nesting territories on the lake have dwindled from eight to one, Ozier said. He saw two adult eagles dead on nests there this year. At one of the nests, another dead adult eagle was found a few days later on the ground below. Apparently both members of this nesting pair were lost at about the same time.
Scientists are probing AVM and what can be done to combat it.
Although concentrated on the coast, bald eagle nests are found across the state, usually near major rivers and lakes where the fish, birds and turtles that eagles eat are abundant. The nests are big - averaging 5 feet wide - but they can be hard to find. Ozier encouraged the public to let his office know of any eagle nests they see, by form (www.georgiawildlife.com/node/1322) or phone (478-994-1438). Each year, these reports lead to the documentation of nests not monitored before.
DNR works with landowners to help protect nests on their property.
Bald eagles are one of more than 600 high-priority nongame animals and plants identified in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a strategy guiding conservation efforts statewide. Georgians can also help conserve eagles and other rare and endangered nongame wildlife by contributing to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund checkoff on their state income tax returns.
The Wildlife Conservation Fund supports conservation of animals from sea turtles to southeastern American kestrels, as well as native plants and natural habitats. DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section also uses donations to attract and match grants, gaining about $1 for every 25¢ spent.
The Nongame Conservation Section receives no state appropriations for its mission to conserve nongame animals - those not legally hunted, fished for or trapped - and native plants and habitats. The sales of bald eagle and hummingbird license plates also benefit the agency and the Wildlife Conservation Fund. Details at www.georgiawildlife. com
The associate superintendent of Bartow County schools appears headed to become the next superintendent of Pickens County schools, following an announcement at a Thursday school board meeting.
The board announced at a called meeting that Dr. Ben Desper is the sole finalist for the superintendent job here. Under Georgia law, a school board must wait 14 days after naming a finalist before they can officially sign a contract.
A press release handed out following the meeting Thursday stated, “after a lengthy search that began in January, 2011, the Pickens County Board of Education has named Dr. Ben Desper as the finalist for the superintendent of schools.”
Dr. Desper is presently Associate Superintendent of Bartow County schools. He has 27 years of administrative experience and has been in the Bartow County school system since 2008. Prior to working in Bartow County he was a successful teacher, elementary principal, middle school principal, high school principal and has superintendent experience, according to the press release.
“The Board of Education was impressed with Dr. Desper’s knowledge and experience in finance and budgeting, curriculum and instruction, and his success as a principal at all levels,” the press release stated. “His experience is in North Georgia school systems of Floyd, Habersham and Trion, all of which share common characteristics with Pickens County.”
Wendy Lowe, chair of the school board, stated in the press release, “We are delighted to have someone of Dr. Ben Desper’s experience and ability to be our next superintendent. We have had a very deliberate and thorough search process and I appreciate how well the board has worked together through the search process.”
See more on the selection in next week’s print edition