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.
Fire Chief Howard said radar measured the tornado that touched down with wind speeds of 120 miles per hour when it crossed into Pickens County. Wind speeds at Bryant Road were thought to have picked up to 157 miles per hour based on the “debris field.”
With destruction severe, many emergency workers and residents expressed amazement no one was seriously injured here. The fire chief and others attributed this to people recognizing the violent nature of this storm from early broadcasts and taking shelter ahead of time.
“We were extremely lucky,” said Howard. “The ability to receive notice and seek shelter early––if those people had been home, there would have been, at the least, a dozen fatalities.”
Captain Reynolds said early notices of the coming storm led people who lacked solid storm shelters to move to other homes with basements. In one case more than 15 different people took shelter in one basement. He also noted the “total luck” involved with no one being injured with so much debris flying around.
Howard said emergency crews did a dedicated professional job of responding. First responders were in the area within minutes of the first tornado but had to delay work until the next two storms had passed over.
“Even though the next two tornadoes didn’t touch down, the conditions with the lightning and hail were very dangerous,” Howard said. “We were also lucky that none of the [emergency crews or road clearing crews] were injured with the power lines down and trees and debris blowing around.”
Howard said it was an “all call.” All emergency crews from all departments and volunteer departments were there.
Moving to long term recovery
For those trying to recover and those who want to help, the county is now moving from a temporary situation to a long-term recovery, according to Howard.
Officials say the next and most important step for anyone affected by the storm with property damage or job loss is to contact FEMA representatives to set up a one-on-one interview to discuss their personal situation.
All officials from the county and Red Cross said there are so many variables involving insurance, type of insurance, job losses and extent of damage that it’s hard to give general advice on how to seek assistance. All official emphasized that FEMA is definitely the first step. To arrange an interview, call 1-800-621-3362 or go online at www.disasterassistance.gov.
FEMA was scheduled to set up shop here Wednesday, May 4. After meeting with county personnel that day, FEMA was supposed to open their “recovery operation center” in the County Admin Building at 1266 East Church Street in Jasper.
See information sheet on page 9A for more information on applying for assistance.
Andy Thompson, of the Red Cross, said the organization provided shelter in hotels for five families. A shelter opened at the high school was not used.
Thompson said locating the shelter at the high school drew some criticism as there were closer schools, but the high school was the only location that had showers. “It was optimum, even if it was further away,” he said.
Thompson said at this point, Red Cross is continuing to provide basic food and water. He said Red Cross has accepted some cash donations that will be used to aid victims, but he has not released any of the money at this point. Accepting money from a group like Red Cross could hinder a storm victim from getting FEMA assistance later, he said.
“People need to wait on FEMA first,” Thompson said. “The scope and amount of their assistance is much greater than what we can provide.”
Thompson said the Red Cross will be available with financial assistance for those who don’t qualify for FEMA or need additional assistance.
“Once FEMA sets up here, things will move faster,” he said. “First, people need to find out what assistance they will offer.”
Thompson said he wants to stress that money given to Red Cross here is used locally for storm victims. He said not only does all the local money stay here, but more is directed from other ongoing fundraisers. He said in the 2002 storms that hit Tate, the local Red Cross Chapter accepted $20,000 in donations and provided $100,000 in assistance here.
Thompson said Red Cross will have a table at the recovery operation center and will be there to meet with any storm victim after victims meet with FEMA.
Thompson emphasized it is hard to speak generally about relief offered either through FEMA or Red Cross, as there are “so many variables” in each individual case.
To donate to Red Cross, send checks to Red Cross/ 1266 E. Church Street, Suite 154, Jasper, GA 30143. Thompson said checks may be marked Pickens Storm Relief to ensure they go directly to storm victims.
Sheriff establishes separate relief center/fund
Sheriff Donnie Craig has established a relief center on East Church Street to accept donated materials for storm victims. The center is expected to open by the middle of this week. Neither the physical address nor phone number were known at press time. It is across the road from Fred’s Discount Store and will be marked with signage when open.
The sheriff said the center will accept any type of household goods, televisions, clothes and other items. They have already accepted a large quantity of clothes including many pairs of new blue jeans from the Horsetown store located in the metro Atlanta area.
Craig said plans are to let storm victims have first choice of items brought in, then to open the resource to other people who may be disadvantaged, and finally to sell whatever is left at a big yard sale and donate the money back to the community.
Craig said he recognizes this is a longterm operation that will be staffed by volunteers from different churches and organizations. He asked that people who want to donate “hold off” on giving larger items until things are set up, as the people hardest hit by the storms don’t have roofs or any place to store furniture at this point.
The sheriff said he has also established a “Sheriff’s Relief Fund” to aid storm victims. Donations can be made at the county jail or at Jasper Banking Company where the account is established.
County Commissioner Robert Jones, County Fire Chief Bob Howard and Sheriff Donnie Craig all expressed appreciation for the host of volunteers who showed up to help in the storm’s aftermath. Craig noted 130 volunteers showed up in one day seeking to help in whatever way they could.
Contact Dan Pool at
See full account of storm victim's describing the violent storm in this week's print edition.