South starts cleanup after twisters

BY SUSAN KIM | Florida Panhandle | March 16, 2001

"People are sleeping in their cars. We are still determining how long we will need to serve food."

After the Ides of March brought tornadoes to the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia, residents are beginning to clean up.

In Florida, what may have been several tornadoes touched down in Washington and Jackson counties. In a rural area near Wausau, eight people were injured, three homes were destroyed, and seven homes sustained significant damage. Power lines and trees were down across the area.

Two tornadoes also touched down in Jackson County, damaging two homes and one business.

In southwest Georgia, trees were toppled and mobile homes damaged when twisters hit Whigham and Climax. At least 12 structures, including mobile homes and barns, were destroyed, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

High winds also toppled numerous trees in Columbus, GA, damaging some buildings in the city's historic district.

Meanwhile, tornado damage from another Florida twister earlier this week was more severe than originally thought, emergency officials discovered as they conducted assessments Wednesday. An F1 tornado that ripped through Volusia County may have caused $5 million in damage, preliminary estimates showed.

The areas of Daytona Beach,South Daytona Beach, and Holly Hill were hardest hit. About 30 homes were destroyed, 30 sustained major damage, and another 277 sustained minor damage, reported Charlie Craig of Volusia County emergency management.

The local Westside Baptist Church opened as a shelter and about 14 people stayed overnight Tuesday. The storm blew the roof off the Salvation Army building. Though most damaged phone and power lines were repaired late Tuesday, some 1,200 people were still without power Wednesday. Three people were injured.

Local response teams were also discovering pockets of heavy damage after severe storms swept through Mississippi and Alabama Monday and Tuesday.

Ripped-off roofs, downed trees and power lines, damaged mobile homes, and flooding were in evidence across both states, according to local reports.

One man was killed in southern Mississippi when a tree fell across his truck.

The town of Hattiesburg, MS was hardest hit. Hattiesburg is in Forrest County, and neighboring Lamar County also took the brunt of the storm. Five injuries were reported in those two counties.

At least 157 homes and businesses in Lamar and Forrest counties sustained some damage, according to preliminary local damage assessments. The storm knocked out power to a local water treatment plant, so residents were being asked to conserve water.

Emergency officials in Marion and Jones counties also reported some damage to homes and businesses.

The Salvation Army was responding to people's needs in Hattiesburg. Within the first 15 minutes after the storm struck, The Salvation Army sent crews to assess damages and determine people's needs. Working with local law enforcement officials, The Salvation Army set up a canteen truck that provided meals to 300 people. Trained staff offered trauma counseling for storm survivors as well.

In the town of Olah, in Lamar County, a mobile home park sustained heavy damage, said Salvation Army Captain Kelly Igleheart. About 30 residents live in the park, plus another dozen homes were affected.

"People are sleeping in their cars," said Ingleheart. "We are still determining how long we will need to serve food." A local restaurant donated barbecue sandwiches, and Wal-Mart donated sandwich meat, bread, and drinks.

"We're a faith-based community here. That's a blessing," he said.

In Alabama, a woman and her 12-year-old granddaughter were killed when a tornado ripped through their mobile home in Red Level. Scott Adcock, public information officer for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said that Washington County was hard hit, particularly the town of Macintosh, as well as isolated areas of Covington County. However, he said, "most of the damage looks like it will be covered by insurance. It will be handled at the state and local level."

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