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GA town cleans up -- again

Disaster responders help tornado-ravaged neighborhoods.

BY DANIEL YEE | CAMILLA, GA | March 24, 2003

The night before the tornado struck, the First Assembly of God held its usual Wednesday night services. By the next morning, the church's sanctuary was left in ruins, one of more than 150 buldings damaged or destroyed by the second major tornado in three years to hit this small town.

At least five people died in this town of 5,700, and scores of others were injured. It wrecked three separate neighborhoods and then jumped from Mitchell County to Worth County where two more people died near the town of Bridgeboro. About 150 homes were damaged and an estimated $2.5 million in damages was caused by the tornado.

Decades old pecan trees, southern Georgia is famous for its pecans, lay toppled over like once-proud giants. Skinnier pine trees lay shattered high in the air. Sheet metal wrapped around trees 15 feet up.

The Thursday tornado was an eerie repeat of the Valentine's Day tornado that struck the town in 2000, almost from the same direction and almost with the same destructive resolve. Then, about 200 homes were destroyed and 11 people were killed. Some of the homes rebuilt by volunteers following that storm, were damaged once again Thursday.

On Saturday and Sunday, families gathered outside their homes, many with broken windows and plastic tarps over the roof to keep rain out.

Nine-year-old Shynekia Barnes was sleeping in her grandmother's home Thursday morning when the tornado struck and destroyed the house. "Dirt started flying," the fourth-grader said. "Then the window bust. Me and my sister woke up."

They got up and ran for the hallway. "The ceiling fan fell in the bed," Barnes said. "If we hadn't got up, it would have gotten us."

On Saturday, debris-clearing crews worked the streets and Salvation Army vans handed out meals to neighborhood residents. Georgia State Police guarded entrances to damaged streets and local fire crews planned to patrol the stricken areas at night to discourage people from stealing things from the broken homes.

"A lady came up to us crying and said, 'It's bad enough last night I lost all my stuff, now they're looting,'" said Becky Griffin, a firefighter with the Sale City and Camilla fire departments.

On Saturday, state agencies and relief organizations were in full force,helping those in need.

"Right now, we're doing feeding, cleanup and recovery, we have chainsaw units and are doing temporary repairs," said David Reynolds, on-site coordinator for the Georgia Baptist Convention. "Whatever we need to do."

The Georgia Baptist Convention, The Salvation Army, Adventist Disaster Services, UMCOR, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Church World Service are among the organizations that have responded to help survivors.

For some relief officials, Camilla is a familiar sight.

"This is the exact same disaster as three years ago," said Douglas Watson, director of disaster services for the Georgia Division of The Salvation Army.

Watson noted that The Salvation Army were among the organizations that helped people rebuild their homes following the 2000 storm. But unfortunately, "a lot of homes we helped rebuild were destroyed," Watson said.

As the winds died down Thursday, members of the First Assembly of God, found their church in ruins, but found that their faith was still strong.

"We know that everything's in God's control," said Corey Shiver, a church board member and Sunday school teacher. "But the only thing we lost was a church. A church can be replaced."

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