Final in a three part travelouge
By Joan Barnes
The howling winds and driving rain of the early morning hours had changed to showers as we carried our bulging bags to the bike. We were relieved to see it had survived the storm and was still standing upright.
As we rode around Queenstown Bay, rain started falling in sunlight and a rainbow formed over the Bay. We continued riding in the rain up through the mountains. We were constantly chasing a patch of blue sky that was always just ahead of us.
While we were stopped at a cafe the sky cleared and we had our New Zealand sun back. A man who was admiring the bike saw us stripping off our rain gear. He said, “You might have a wee bit of weather ahead.” We ignored his warning and rode down the road basking in the brilliant sun - for five minutes. Dark ominous clouds raced down the mountains toward us. We barely got off the bike and into our rain gear before the downpour started. Strong winds battered us. On the bike, the rain drops became ice needles driving into our faces. My helmet chin strap beat against my face viciously. The bike was blown across the road into the oncoming traffic lane or toward roadside ditches in spite of all Ely’s attempts to control it. The winds actually blew a large window out of one of the Wellington car ferries that day and the churning waves filled it with water. Fortunately all the passengers were rescued.
At right, a perfect New Zealand, especially as seen from a touring motorcycle.
Many county water customers were shocked when they opened their most recent bill, which showed in some cases double the amount owed in a normal month.
According to Pickens County Water & Sewer Director Larry Coleman, there was an issue with the billing program that pulled balances from 2008, with total amounts due reflecting a previous month’s balance and a current month’s balance.
“So they had double the cost in many cases,” Coleman said. “Some had a smaller balance, but many had more.”
Coleman said their office received calls or walk-ins from 700 to 800 customers on the very first day statements were received.
The director said he has been in touch with programmers, but they are still uncertain about the cause of the mishap.
“We can’t find out what caused it,” he said. “We’re working on it.”
Coleman said each month the office manually checks the first few bills to ensure they are accurate, but this month, “something happened with the program after those first ones we checked.”
Coleman noted that bills were also sent to customers who have left the county water system since 2008, and others who have entered since that time received no bill at all.
“But we’ve got a call fire system, which we can send out calls to everyone,” he said. “We told them to disregard this bill and that a new one would be on the way. We’ve have apologized to everyone, and most of them are being understanding.”
Coleman said by using this rapid call alert system, they department has been able to contact 95 percent of county water customers.
The department, Coleman said, has reprinted all 2,500 bills and has manually checked each statement to be sure they are correct.
“We are on our way to send them to the post office right now,” Coleman said mid Friday afternoon, May 6.
Because of the mess up, due dates will be extended this month, but Coleman was unsure about new cutoff dates.
“I’m going to sit down with the commissioner and talk about that,” he said. “But we’ve got everything straightened out.”
Pickens County Fire Chief, Bob Howard / Photo The upside down floor of this house trailer (center) was all that remained after the storm. See page 23A for more photos of the damage and cleanup.
In a final count, 121 residences were identified as damaged or destroyed by the tornado that hit April 27 in the Bryant Road-Childers Lane area of west Pickens County.
Of those homes, 23 are considered totally destroyed; 49 taking major damage (anything estimated at more than $10,000 to repair); the rest losing shingles, porches or suffering roof damage. Numbers could change slightly, depending on what insurance companies determine.
Pickens County Fire Chief Bob Howard said work done by county personnel, including building inspectors, who went door-to-door, found 75 percent of homeowners with damaged properties did not have insurance.
When building inspectors made their first damage reports at a meeting last Thursday, they noted in some cases the destruction was so severe they couldn’t tell what kind of house had been there before the tornado hit.
Captain Frank Reynolds of the Pickens County Sheriffs Office described the scene on Bryant Road early on the morning following the storm as “complete devastation.”
Damage came from a single EF-3 tornado, which arrived with the first storm band Wednesday. Three tornadoes crossed through Pickens County starting about 9 p.m. Wednesday, but only the first touched down here, according to storm experts.
The other two twisters that formed crossed through the county in the air. The storms here were part of a massive “mega storm” that killed more than 300 in the southeastern United States and destroyed whole communities in other areas. In Georgia the counties to the west of Pickens took the brunt of the storm.
Fire Chief Howard said a fly-over by helicopter in the area where the tornado touched down and beyond made it clear the storm that did damage here had created a line of destruction more than 20 miles long leading into the county. In places the twister cut a swath of downed trees and destroyed homes more than a half-mile wide, he said.
The destroying storm lifted up while still west of Jerusalem Church Road and crossed out of the county in the air but touched down again in other Georgia counties to the east and created more damage in North Carolina.
Allen Wigington, center, is sworn in as the Chief Magistrate Judge by Probate Judge Rodney Gibson as his wife, Rosie, holds the Bible.
Allen Wigington, who has served as both sheriff’s deputy and magistrate here, was sworn in as Pickens County’s Chief Magistrate Judge in front of a full courtroom on Wednesday, April 27.
Wigington will fill the unexpired term of former chief magistrate, Larry Ray, that term ending December 31, 2012.
Ray retired on April 25 of this year following his 65th birthday. He served 20 years as chief magistrate judge in Pickens County.
The chief magistrate judge is an elected position, but in the event the office is left vacant, Superior Court judges from the district appoint a replacement.
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.