Deadly tornadoes tear across South

Severe storms and dozens of tornadoes leave wide path of destruction from Alabama to South Carolina.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | COLUMBIA, SC | March 15, 2008



"It is the most amazing and worst weather episode I have ever experienced"

—Steve Milone, meteorologist FOX 5, Atlanta


Three severe storm systems moved through Alabama, North Georgia and South Carolina Friday night and Saturday, leaving behind a wide swath of damage and injuries, prompting some observers to suggest parts of the region resembled a war zone.

For the first time in nearly 25 years, the National Storm Prediction Center warned South Carolina residents Saturday afternoon that the severe weather put much of the Midlands counties at "high risk" for significant damage. The last such warning in that region was in 1984.

The warnings proved to be well-founded as dozens of tornadoes, although mostly unconfirmed, were reported in South Carolina.

Al Kennedy, a spokesman for the Berkely County, S.C., Emergency Management Agency, said there had been what appeared to be a tornado touchdown at a mobile home community in Strawberry. About 10 of the community's 50 trailer homes were damaged and several people had been taken to the hospital.

Kennedy added that the storms were still moving through the area, accompanied by heavy rains and some thunderstorms so that full assessments have not been done of the damage. Berkley County plans to send emergency personnel out to inspect the region as soon as it is safe to do so.

In other parts of the state, there were reports of downed trees and broken power lines throughout the state. While there were reports of injuries associated with the storm, there were no fatalities reported. About 5,000 homes were without power as a result of the storms.

In Newberry County, about half a dozen homes were believed to be destroyed by what may have been a tornado. Emergency workers could not assess the damage as more severe weather was expected to move through the area until late in the evening, a spokesman for the sheriff's office there said.

The National Weather Service reported weather-related damage in Dillon, Kershaw, McCormick and Lexington counties.

In Lexington County, an emergency dispatcher reported trees and power lines were down throughout the county. She said they had had many calls reporting hazardous conditions, but there were no reports of injuries. Still, she said, the storm was raging. It is expected to go on until the early morning hours on Sunday. "It's a mess out there," she said. "We won't really know how bad it is until the sun comes up in the morning."

Earlier in the day, the storms kept weather forecasters and emergency management officials busy.

From reports of damaged chicken houses in Blount County, Ala. to two fatalities in Polk and in Floyd counties, Ga., the weather brought widespread damage to the region. Damage from wind and hail, as large as three inches in diameter, was reported throughout the area that moved from tornado watches to warnings and back again for most of Friday night and Saturday.

The intensity and longevity of the storms surprised weather forecasters in the region. "It is the most amazing and worst weather episode I have ever experienced," Steve Milone, a meteorologist for Fox 5 television in Atlanta, told viewers Saturday afternoon.

In Alabama, the damage was widespread, but relatively minor. "We've had some minor damage a couple of chicken houses in Blount County were destroyed and several areas are reporting power outages and there has been a lot of minor damage to residences across the state," said Angie Smith of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

But, as the storms crossed the border with Georgia, they gained momentum. Wind speeds gusted to more than 100 miles an hour. Rain and hail swirled between heavy lightening.

"There was damage to homes and business across the north Georgia region," said Lisa Janak, a public information officer with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. That agency was activated on Friday evening. Janak expected they would be open through Sunday morning.

"This is still an active system," she said early Saturday evening. "We won't know the extent of the damage until it all passes."

Though a great deal of the damage from the storm had been reported in the downtown Atlanta area, there were reports of damage to homes and businesses in Rockdale, Jackson, Hall, Cherokee, Forsyth and Woodfield counties. Damage, including two deaths, was also reported in Polk and Floyd counties.

"We can't assess the damage until we can get the teams out to those affected areas," Janak said. "This is not over yet."

Officials have only confirmed that one tornado has touched down, but Janak said she expects more of the storms will have had tornadoes associated with them when the final assessments are completed on Sunday and Monday.

In Georgia, where the storms moved through earlier in the day on Saturday, the Salvation Army was trying to work between the storms to set up shelters, do damage assessment and offer assistance to the first responders to the storm damaged areas.

William Mochabee, the state commander for the Salvation Army in Georgia, said they had "both a frustrating and rewarding day" in trying to serve where they were needed.

"Our strategy was to be able to serve in as many places as possible," he said, noting that 22 units were on standby and went wherever the call for assistance came.

"We were ahead of the storms all day," he said. "We were able to give some help to the first responders, but weren't able to do any kind of damage assessment because more storms were always coming up behind and we'd have to move on." He said the teams will reassemble on Sunday and begin to damage assessment throughout the storm-ravaged areas.


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