Twisters strike across South

BY SUSAN KIM | CAMILLA, GA | February 15, 2000

CAMILLA, GA (Feb. 15, 2000) -- Rural Georgia is mourning lost loved ones

and facing shock over the devastation caused by a series of tornadoes in

the wee hours of Monday morning.

The majority of residents were sleeping -- not tuning in to weather

warnings -- before the tornado cut a 12-mile swath that was up to 1.5

miles wide through Mitchell County. Some were ripped from their beds

by the tornadoes. Others looked up into blinding rain and lightning after

their roofs were torn away or trees crashed through their walls.

Emergency officials continue to go door-to-door, searching for people

who may be trapped beneath their collapsed homes.

There have been at least 22 fatalities reported in southern Georgia and

more than 100 people injured in the worst tornadoes to strike

the state since the 1936.

In Camilla, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, town officials and

residents said looks like "a war zone." There are scores of missing

roofs, flattened houses, and mobile homes wrapped around trees. Debris

lines every street. Entire pecan orchards were lost when the tornadoes

uprooted every tree.

More casualties and injuries are feared as assessment teams continue

to comb the area, said Charlie Moeller, Church World Service (CWS)

disaster resource facilitator.

"They are still looking for people. It's total chaos down there," he said.

Moeller has been in close contact with local and regional emergency

management personnel to assess how a cooperative interfaith response can

aid in recovery. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has set up a fixed site

feeding kitchen to provide meals for survivors and volunteers. SBC also

has debris removal teams on standby.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Salvation Army

are also standing by, ready to initiate a response.

The Georgia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters will hold an

emergency meeting.

Area churches have also been responding to people's needs. At this time,

church leaders report that the best way for individuals to help is to

make a cash donation to a denominational organization that is responding,

since an influx of material donations would likely cause more confusion

in an already chaotic situation.

At least 70 homes have been completely demolished, and 90 percent of

those are mobile homes, said Moeller. Several hundred more homes were


Mitchell, Colquitt, Grady, and Tift counties were the hardest hit in

Georgia, and all are in a state of emergency, said Lisa Janak, public

information officer for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

The Mitchell County Hospital, a 33-bed facility that was packed with

injured people, was without power and working off a generator. Two

shelters were opened, one at the Mitchell Baker Elementary

School in Camilla and the other at First United Methodist Church in

Moultrie. The American Red Cross is managing the shelters and tending

to survivors' emergency needs by providing cots, food, counseling, and

basic medical care.

Two tornadoes also tore through parts of Arkansas, destroying at least a

dozen structures and injuring two people. Many Arkansans spent a

sleepless night, recalling the freakish 38 tornadoes that swept across

the state in January 1999, damaging more than 2,600 homes. In 1997,

tornadoes also destroyed scores of homes in the College Station

area of Little Rock.

The northern Nashville, TN area was also struck by either a tornado

or high straight-line winds.

Florida also suffered damages. In Dade County, high winds

destroyed 40 mobile homes. Mississippi and Alabama also reported strong


People throughout the south have vivid memories of past tornadoes,

flooding, and hurricanes that have struck their area in recent years.

Last month, a tornado that ripped through the town of Owensboro, KY

totally destroyed or severely damaged some 400 homes, and affected

nearly 1,700. Miraculously, nobody died. Emergency officials credit

the town's siren warning system, which was revamped this year.

Updated Feb. 15, 2000

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