Tornado hits Camden County; twister leaves mark on SE Georgia

Storms damage furniture store, overturn semi, blow apart mobile home

By Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor, Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor, Jonathan Stacey - Meteorologist

A line of severe thunderstorms and a tornado barreled across Southeast Georgia on Friday, leaving a trail of damage. The front facade of a furniture store in Kingsland was ripped off by high winds, a tractor-trailer was blown over on the causeway to St. Simons Island and strong winds rolled a Ware County mobile home off its foundation and ripped it apart.

A National Weather Service damage survey confirmed an EF0 tornado touched down about noon near Georgia Highway 40 West in Camden County, snapping several pine trees as it moved west-southwest toward Georgia Highway 110. According to the NWS, the tornado was 10 yards wide, had peak wind of 80 mph and traveled nearly half a mile.

About 16 miles east in Camden County, authorities said straight-line winds were responsible for blowing out the front wall off the Badcock Home Furniture store in Kingsland. The front of the building collapsed onto two trucks parked out front.

"One of the vehicles happened to be mine, but, yeah, two vehicles lost in the storm," store manager Sterling Cobb said. "I feel like I’m thankful for being alive."

Cobb said the storefront was ripped away in almost slow motion.

"All of a sudden, we heard, like, a wind, a heavy wind, and I looked forward and the building was falling down. It was actually peeling like an orange," Cobb said. "It was frightening." 

There were five people inside the store when it happened. Cobb told News4Jax they were all toward the back of the store and it was a miracle that no one was injured. 

A viewer who sent a photo of the damage reported seeing a funnel coming from the clouds.

"This was after what looked to be a tornado hovered over the store and receded back into the sky,” Rhonda Askin wrote.

SLIDESHOW: Photos of storms passing, damage left behind

Though the front of the store was badly damaged, News4Jax was told that most of the furniture that was inside was untouched.

Crews spent a couple of hours cleaning up the debris and boarding up the front of the building. Security will be in place Friday night to make sure nothing is stolen from the store.

"It's a mess," Cobb said.

Though it will take weeks for the business to be fully restored, the store manager said there will be a small kiosk outside where customers can go to. Cobb expects the building to be back to normal in about six weeks.

Ware County mobile home destroyed

Buck Thigpen​​​​, his wife and 4-year-old son were inside their home near Waycross when strong winds rolled the house and split it apart.

"We just felt everything around us shaking and moving. The house rolled and there we went," Thigpen said. "When we got out, there were no walls around. We landed only by the grace of God."

Thigpen had a broken collarbone and a scratch on his face. Though it will take weeks for the family to clean up, they are grateful they will be starting over with each other.

"You look at all this stuff back here. This is nothing when your family is safe  ... and a broken collar bone, a few scrapes is all you get. This stuff is replaceable," Thigpen said. 

In Glynn County, the driver of the semi that was blown over by a gust of wind on the F.J. Torras Causeway was taken to an urgent care facility, the county's public information officer said. The crash completely blocked both lanes into St. Simons Island for a few hours, leaving hundreds of drivers sitting in traffic.

"It's only one way on and off the island, so it's going to be a while," traveler Richard Ryman said. 

Due to slowed traffic on the causeway, Glynn County Public Schools delayed dismissal for schools going to and from St. Simons Island because buses couldn't get through.

As of 4 p.m., according to the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency, crews were working on the causeway. All lanes of the causeway were back open about 45 minutes later. 

Semi overturns on St. Simons Island causeway (Photo: Michael Torras/Brunswick Landing Marina)

The Glynn County public information officer said a line of strong storms that passed through also downed trees and power lines. Drivers were asked to stay off the roads, if possible, as many traffic signals throughout the area were out. If a traffic signal is not working, drivers should treat an intersection as a four-way stop. 

Charlton and Ware counties preemptively closed their schools Friday. 

Across the state, the storm system knocked down trees, caused minor flooding and cut off power to thousands of residents.

Georgia power companies reported that more than 37,000 customers were without power around the state Friday afternoon.

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