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Volunteers help GA, SC cleanups

More than 30 tornadoes reported, damage assessments continue


Work crews in Georgia and South Carolina were cutting back limbs with chain saws, cooking meals and pulling debris from houses after tornadoes tore a swath through portions of both states on Saturday.

While national network coverage focused on the damaged arenas and skyscrapers, many homes in Cabbagetown and Vine City were also damaged by the storms.

Lynn Barnes who works at the International Theological Center said she passes through Vine City, where residents struggle daily just to make ends meet. Houses are old and, often were already tattered, even before the storms. In the days after the storm, Barnes said, it's looking even grimmer.

Some of the houses are without roofs. Those that remain are battered. Fences are twisted and ripped like overused bread ties. And trees, many of which had stood for a hundred years or more, are ripped from the ground and smashed on the street and into the houses.

"It's a mess in the streets," she said. "People are doing what they can to fix things up, but they're going to have a lot of work to do for a long time."

At the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, where community volunteers are often assembled in times of crisis, members are trying to patch up a portion of the roof that was sheared from the building. The steeple is askew, hanging precariously to the right side of the building.

Barnes said the power and telephone service appear to have been restored in the area, while neighbors are helping neighbors with quick fixes to their homes.

In South Carolina, that state's Baptist Convention sent 18 teams to eight locations on Sunday, the day after the tornadoes moved through.

National disaster response organizations are responding, including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance which has sent members of its National Response Team to Atlanta.

Assessment teams from both state emergency management agencies and from each affected county's emergency management department are still going door-to-door, where doors are still attached, and checking on the extent of the damage. While crews of volunteers move through the areas with chainsaws and offers of assistance, their assessment teams have still not gotten a handle on everything that will be needed.

"Right now, we're just getting trees out of the way and patching roofs where we can," said Cliff Statterwhite of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Statterwhite is also the vice chair of the state's VOAD. He said there are teams of volunteers from all denominations and from state agencies moving slowly across a 120 mile wide stretch of the state, looking for people who need help.

Derrec Becker, a public information officer for the South Carolina Emergency Management Department said he is still trying to pull together reports from the counties that were in the path of the 17 confirmed tornado touchdowns throughout the state.

The South Carolina VOAD plans to organize teams during the week. Supplies are being sent to warehouses operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Volunteers from Baptist organizations will be handling meal preparation and distribution as well as clean up operations and Mennonite groups will be setting up to do the long-term rebuilding programs.

"We have other groups who we will be working with," Statterwhite said.

He said the storms moved mostly through rural areas where damage was limited to uprooted trees and tattered signs. In that respect, he said, the state was lucky. The populated areas that were hit, however, were hit hard.

In Branchville, a small town in Orangeburg County, he said, nine buildings in the downtown area, including the Town Hall were destroyed.

"That may not sound like much," Statterwhite said, "but there aren't but maybe a dozen buildings there."

Most of the other buildings in town were severely damaged, according to local officials. Though all the reports are not in, Becker of the state emergency management department said the town was probably the hardest hit in the state.

Statterwhite said the area is rural and the residents are stubbornly independent. He said most are refusing to leave their possessions and damaged homes, preferring to stay and do what work they can within their own community.

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