Killer tornadoes rake GA town

Second time in 3 years, region hit by severe storms.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | CAMILLA, GA | March 20, 2003

"I think we had a pretty ugly day"

—Kurt Pickering, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency

A tornado registering F3 on the Fujita Scale tore up southwestern Georgia early Thursday morning, killing six people and injuring more than 200 others, according to Lisa Ray, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. A total of 159 homes were damaged by the storm, and between 50 and 75 were rendered "uninhabitable," Ray said.

Another tornado—a strong F1—hit Jackson County Florida, according to the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla., and meteorologists Friday were inspecting reports of another tornado that may have hit the town of Fountain in Bay County.

The F3 tornado killed four people here in Camilla, a rural town in Mitchell County, and two people in Bridgeboro in Worth County, about 20 miles northeast of Camilla.

This is not the first time in recent history that Camilla has been hit by a tornado, said Mitchell County administrator Bennett Adams. The town was also struck on Valentine's Day in 2000, when 11 people were killed.

"We are becoming south Georgia's tornado alley," Adams said, "a designation we do not want to have."

The tornado in Mitchell County cut a half-mile swath for nearly 25 miles, he said.

No one was killed by the smaller tornado in Jackson County, Fla., but three people were reportedly injured, according to emergency management officials there.

The Salvation Army sent out two mobile canteens to both Worth and Mitchell counties and were assessing damage in the town of Cairo, in Grady County.

In Mitchell County, the site of the worst damage, the Red Cross set up a shelter at the Mitchell County Middle School, and sent teams out to provide damage assessments. Two Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles were supplying residents with meals.

A mobile kitchen from the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was expected to arrive at the First Baptist Church of Camilla sometime Thursday afternoon, said George Crenshaw, a volunteer with the Southern Baptists. Crenshaw expected about three dozen workers to show up by evening.

Thursdays storms were the latest of a string of severe weather that has pelted the South this week.

On Wednesday, a man was killed when strong winds turned over and destroyed his mobile home about 11 a.m. Wednesday in Putnam County, TN. Another man inside the mobile home was transported to the hospital, according to Kurt Pickering, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

In Florida, a tornado destroyed two homes Wednesday evening in Volusia County, said Michael Younger, state warning point communications operator for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Panhandle counties - including Baker, Columbia, Leon, Liberty, Suwanee, Taylor, Union and Wakulla - have been under a local state of emergency since the beginning of the month because of flooding, Younger said.

In Wednesday's storm in Tennessee, two other people in Warren County were injured and were treated at a hospital after the mobile home they were inside also was destroyed at just before 1 p.m. Wednesday.

The first tornado warnings occured about 8 a.m. in Bedford County, Tenn.

Tennessee just came off of heavy flooding last month that caused millions of dollars of damages and killed two children. Last month, more than six inches of rain fell during a three-day period, causing flooding.

Gov. Phil Bredesen last week asked President Bush to declare 28 Tennessee counties a federal disaster area. Those counties include: Anderson, Bledsoe, Campbell, Cannon, Carter, Claiborne, Cumberland, Decatur, Fentress, Grainger, Hancock, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Johnson, Knox, Lewis, Loudon, Marion, Meigs, Rhea, Roane, Scott, Sequatchie, Stewart, Unicoi, Union, and Van Buren.

The most severe impacts of the flooding affected roads and bridges, utilities and buildings, especially in rural counties where damage was widespread. State and local government budget crunch crises "is causing extreme financial hardships," Bredesen wrote to Bush in a letter.

-- Daniel Yee also contributed to this story.

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