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March 20, 2008 Issue

"We are blessed"

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"We are blessed"

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

All over Wrens Sunday morning, citizens awoke to the sound of chainsaws.

The cleanup of the debris left by the touchdown of a Saturday evening tornado began almost immediately after the storm passed.

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Both Georgia Power and Jefferson Energy Cooperative had teams working throughout the night. A spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said that Sunday afternoon he counted 125 Georgia Power trucks lined up on Highway 88 northeast of Wrens. Much of the north end of Jefferson County was without power for nearly 24 hours.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Robert Chalker flew over the Wrens area in a state patrol helicopter at first light Sunday morning to begin compiling an aerial assessment of the damage.

“It looks like the tornado touched down north of Wrens and took a path eastward for about 10 to 12 miles,” Chalker said. “The damage stretched from Wrens right up Highway 88 into the edge of Burke County, into the Keysville area.”

While there some citizens have reported seeing more than one funnel cloud Saturday afternoon, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Mike Griesinger his office has confirmed only a single tornado.

“It touched down at approximately 6:15 p.m.,” Griesinger said. “We determined the total path of the tornado to be about 19 miles long. It appears to have lifted back up around Applewood Golf Course in Burke County.”

The National Weather Service has classified the tornado an EF2 with wind speeds estimated around 120 mph and a maximum path width of about a quarter-mile of damage in the Matthews area.

“The storm it came from was a supercell, which is pretty common in the plain states,” Griesinger said. “We do get them here occasionally. We had reports of baseball sized hail across the state and so far we have confirmed four tornadoes in the state over a two day period.”

Tuesday afternoon Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross were all still working on their individual damage assessments in northern Jefferson County.

According to Chalker the most recent figures showed 32 structures, including homes, barns and outbuildings, in north Jefferson County completely destroyed by the storm. In addition to those destroyed, there were 80 more structures damaged. Chalker also reported Red Cross figures that showed there were five families from the Matthews area alone that were displaced from their homes.

“We have over 100 houses damaged,” Chalker said. “Some have slight damage with windows knocked out, others have shingles missing. There are some that have major roof damage and then there are some that are totally destroyed.”

Bobby and Diane Stewart of the Matthews community just north east of Wrens were home when the storm ripped apart their ranch-style brick house.

“I looked out the back window and saw this boiling black cloud coming through the trees,” Bobby Stewart said. “It was in the dirt. I knew it didn’t look good.”

The couple ran to a bathroom at the other end of the house.

“Diane was leaning against the door and I had my arm against it,” he said. “You couldn’t believe the pressure. I could feel the door vibrating.”

Neither he nor his wife said a word for what felt like minutes, and the whole time he kept watching the ceiling and listening to the storm tear at the roof.

When the weather calmed they opened the door and saw light coming into the house from the holes in the roof.

Sunday neighbors helped the couple load all of the possessions the family had left into trucks to store until they can decide what to do next.

“Diane asked me earlier today if we have a plan,” Bobby said, standing in the yard of what has been his family’s farm home since 1980. “I told her no baby, we have to take it a day at a time.”

Later he added, “You know somebody asked me earlier how I’m doing and I told them I’m fine. Really, I am. I’m walking around and I’m fine. All of this is replaceable. I really think we’re blessed. A lot of people are worse off than us.”

All of three of the family’s farm sheds and equipment suffered serious damage as did a number of grain bins.

“Wrens was bad,” Chalker said. “But Matthews was twice as bad. It just isn’t as populated. If it had hit Wrens like it hit Matthews…whew.”

Chalker said that the county is lucky to have only a single serious injury reported so far.

“The storm it came from was a supercell, which is pretty common in the plain states,” Griesinger said. “We do get them here occasionally. We had reports of baseball sized hail across the state and so far we have confirmed four tornadoes in the state over a two-day period.”

Tuesday afternoon Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross were all still working on their individual damage assessments in northern Jefferson County.

According to Chalker, the most recent figures showed 32 structures, including homes, barns and outbuildings, in north Jefferson County completely destroyed by the storm. In addition to those destroyed, there were 80 more structures damaged. Chalker also reported Red Cross figures that showed there were five families from the Matthews area alone who were displaced from their homes.

“We have over 100 houses damaged,” Chalker said. “Some have slight damage with windows knocked out, others have shingles missing. There are some that have major roof damage and then there are some that are totally destroyed.”

Bobby and Diane Stewart of the Matthews community just north east of Wrens were home when the storm ripped apart their ranch-style brick house.

“I looked out the back window and saw this boiling black cloud coming through the trees,” Bobby Stewart said. “It was in the dirt. I knew it didn’t look good.”

The couple ran to a bathroom at the other end of the house.

“Diane was leaning against the door and I had my arm against it,” he said. “You couldn’t believe the pressure. I could feel the door vibrating.”

Neither he nor his wife said a word for what felt like minutes, and the whole time he kept watching the ceiling and listening to the storm tear at the roof.

When the weather calmed, they opened the door and saw light coming into the house from the holes in the roof.

Sunday neighbors helped the couple load all of the possessions the family had left into trucks to store until they can decide what to do next.

“Diane asked me earlier today if we have a plan,” Bobby said, standing in the yard of what has been his family’s farm home since 1980. “I told her no baby, we have to take it a day at a time.”

Later he added, “You know somebody asked me earlier how I’m doing and I told them I’m fine. Really, I am. I’m walking around and I’m fine. All of this is replaceable. I really think we’re blessed. A lot of people are worse off than us.”

All of three of the family’s farm sheds and equipment suffered serious damage as did a number of grain bins.

“Wrens was bad,” Chalker said. “But Matthews was twice as bad. It just isn’t as populated. If it had hit Wrens like it hit Matthews…whew.”

Chalker said that the county is lucky to have only a single serious injury reported so far.




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