SEMINOLE COUNTY, Ga. – By all accounts, Sarah Radney was safe inside her grandparents' home when Hurricane Michael roared into southwest Georgia.
If the family feared anything, it was probably falling trees -- not a carport next to the house.
In what could only be described as a freak accident, authorities said Michael's powerful winds lifted the portable structure high into the air and slammed it back down on the house. When it landed, one of the legs tore through the roof, fatally striking the 11-year-old girl in the head.
Michael dropped from a Category 4 hurricane to a Category 1 as it arrived in Georgia, and later weakened to a tropical storm. Still, it caused havoc in parts of the state, spinning off tornadoes and leaving downed trees, damaged buildings and power outages behind as it marched toward the Carolinas.
Sarah had the week off from school for fall break and she and her 12-year-old brother had been staying at their grandparents' house near a lake in Seminole County since Monday. They were supposed to return home Thursday morning.
At home in Cairo about 45 miles away, Sarah's father and stepmother, Roy and Amber Radney, kept in touch with her grandparents through frequent phone calls as the storm winds gusted around them.
Roy Radney was outside Wednesday evening when the call came that something had come through the roof and hit Sarah and his mother. Sarah had been struck in the face, couldn't breathe and quickly fell unconscious.
About 45 minutes later, Amber Radney called her father-in-law and learned Sarah was gone.
Emergency responders weren't able to reach the home until after midnight because power lines and trees blocked the roads. When they finally made it, they took Sarah's grandmother to a hospital, where she was treated for a punctured lung, a broken rib and flesh wounds, Amber Radney said.
The youngest of four until her father remarried and had two more daughters, Sarah loved being around her big family and made everything more fun, Roy and Amber Radney said in phone interviews with The Associated Press on Thursday.
"We couldn't ever get her to spend the night nowhere because she always wanted to be home with her family," Roy Radney said. "She was 11 years old, but she liked to have fun like a 5-year-old."
Sarah loved to perform, her father said. When she started sixth grade this year, she began playing the trumpet in the school band and had recently been in a play with the drama club.
Amber Radney said one of her favorite memories is of making a video of Sarah dancing to Outkast's "Hey Ya!" in a park about two years ago.
"She was so beautiful and she smiled so much that day," Amber Radney said. "She lit up everything."
Town in Seminole County leveled by Michael
Seminole County is in the southwest corner of Georgia, about 100 miles north of Mexico Beach, Florida, where Hurricane Michael made landfall.
The damage and debris could be seen Thursday throughout Donalsonville, a city in Seminole County.
According to officials with the Seminole County Emergency Operation Center, the city sustained some of the worse damage from Michael. The storm barreled through, tearing apart houses, mangling buildings, uprooting trees, snapping trees in half and bringing down countless power poles. At one Shell gas station, almost nothing was left standing.
"It is not just like the power is down. Every power line is down on the street," said Bobby Reynolds, who lives in Donalsonville. "The poles are gone."
Reynolds, who braved Hurricane Michael at home, spent Thursday out in the sun, clearing out debris from his yard and helping neighbors do the same. He said he was "never" expecting it to be this bad.
His house sustained one broken window, but his next-door neighbors weren't so lucky. Two massive trees split their home in half.
"No houses have been hit to where they are all the way gone," Reynolds said.
#HurricaneMichael damage is widespread in Donalsonville, GA. Neighbors are out helping neighbors pick up debris and clean up what the massive storm left behind. People who live here are thankful.. knowing it could have been much worse @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/7919Mwtxxr— Allyson Henning (@AllysonHenning) October 11, 2018
Donalsonville residents said they know there is a long road to recovery ahead for their city, which they said has become almost unrecognizable.
"We are only so many people and we can only do so much, a little bit at a time," said Myna Toole, who lives in Donalsonville. "It is going to take a few years to get back up and running to where it looks normal again."
Seeing the devastation Michael caused just a hundred miles south in Florida’s Panhandle has people in Southwest Georgia feeling thankful, knowing the aftermath could have been much worse.
"My first words out of my mouth whenever they eye hit was, 'Thank you, God,'" Toole said. "After ... I said, 'Thank you for sparing us.'"
An extended curfew was put in place across Seminole County. The county EOC asked people to stay off the roads until 8 a.m. Saturday, as crews clear impassable roads and first responders continue to work to get to areas where help might be needed.
Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday urged people in the Hurricane Michael disaster area to "be patient."
He said emergency crews need to do their work to clear debris from roadways and restore power to hundreds of thousands of residents. Deal said the primary mission at this point is to clear roadways so that officials can assess the damage.
Deal said about 450,000 power outages were reported in Georgia at the height of the storm. Hundreds of thousands of people across the state of Georgia were without electricity Thursday. According to poweroutage.us, nearly 225,000 customers in Georgia were without power as of 5:15 p.m. Thursday.
Power crews could be seen Thursday working to make repairs along several streets in Donalsonville.
In the meantime, the people of Donalsonville will continue working together to get their city back to what it was before the storm.
Other parts of Georgia also were hit hard by the storm. National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Willis said there were two confirmed tornado touchdowns in the state: one in southwest Atlanta and another in Crawford County in central Georgia.
Willis said the Atlanta-area tornado was an EF0, the lowest intensity rating for a tornado, with sustained winds of 65 to 85 mph. The damage there consisted mostly of fallen trees.
Willis said that a team was still working in Crawford County to assess the damage and intensity of the tornado.