Community groups pitching in to help with Camden County cleanup

Neighbors step up to help each other in wake of EF-2 tornado’s destruction

Tropical Storm Elsa spawning two E-F tornados leaving large amounts of debris in Camden County. The community coming together to clean and restore.

ST. MARYS, Ga. – As piles of debris got larger as the day went on in downtown St. Marys, local groups joined the cleanup efforts, helping their neighbors dig out after an EF-2 tornado struck the city.

The tornado, spawned from the storm Wednesday, left a 3.65-mile path of destruction across St. Marys and the Kings Bay Navy base. It packed estimated peak wind speeds of 130 mph.

City officials said 45-50 homes were affected and citizens in need of assistance or social services can call the Salvation Army at 912-882-2200.

Two severely damaged houses still had parts of the roof ripped off and doors taken off the hinges Friday. Both homeowners were out of town at the time.

Volunteers from Christ Church in Kingsland said they felt like it would be a good idea to clean as much as they could before the homeowners returned, just to take a load off their shoulders.

PHOTOS: Florida, Georgia clean up after destruction from Elsa

The pastor leading the project said they’re doing this because they would want someone to do it for them.

“We’re down here to help people because a lot of people have lost something -- or everything -- and it’s a high value of our church to be (there) for our community and to help serve any way we can,” Pastor Jon McClarnon said.

Troy Chinen with Southeast Community Church agreed.

“This is what the church is supposed to look like,” he said.

Volunteers from five churches, including Southeast Community Church, were out cutting fallen trees and removing them from yards Friday in the St. Marys area where the tornado struck.

“It took off some of the roofs of some of these houses and the siding,” Chinen said. “We came out yesterday and where the damage was and we came back today trying to help our neighbors.”

Neighbors also stepped up to make sure those with damage have meals and a roof over their heads.

Pastor Greg Gardell with Restoration Church delivered 160 meals.

“We prepare all the meals inside and this is just a canteen for bringing out hot meals,” Gardell said.

Camden County Emergency Management said these organizations were out helping neighbors clean up:

  • Southeast Community Church
  • Kingsland First Baptist Church
  • Kingsland First United Methodist
  • St. Marys Church
  • Christ Church Camden
  • Restoration Church
  • Coastal Baptist Church
  • Salvation Army
  • Riverview Hotel
  • Turner Brothers

“Just as a church and people who are trying to best follow the ways of Jesus, we would say that’s a high value that He has -- to care for people and serve them,” McClarnon said. “Unfortunately, these people have suffered this tragedy but as people in the community, it actually is a unifying thing.”

The downtown St. Marys area is open to the public, but county officials are asking everyone to avoid the tornado-damaged areas of Norris Street on the east side of downtown. The Point Peter/North River Causeway should also be avoided, they said, as city and utility crews are working to restore services.

They said that includes individuals and volunteer groups who want to help with cleanup.

St. Marys city officials and Camden County officials want any property owners with damage to report it at so emergency management teams can assess and record them.

Tornado’s path

The tornado initially touched down along East St. Marys Street -- just north of the St. Marys River, according to the National Weather Service’s survey. It strengthened to EF-2 intensity, damaging homes along Conyers and Norris streets, before continuing north-northwest, where it produced “EF-1 damage” to a mobile home along Point Peter Road.

The NWS said the tornado reached its maximum strength at the Eagle Hammock RV Park on the Kings Bay base, where multiple recreational vehicles were flipped. One was blown about 200 feet into a lake north of the RV park, where a pickup truck was also found.

The path of the Camden County tornado

St. Marys city officials and Camden County officials want any property owners with damage to report it at so emergency management teams can assess and record them.

City of St. Marys Mayor John Morrissey said city and county crews are working to clean up the roads.

“One of the most important things for homeowners to do is to make sure they get a hold of their insurance company immediately and the assessors get out there and they should be diligent and following up to do that,” said Morrissey.

Morrissey said crews with the emergency management agency were out with state agencies Thursday checking on citizens and finding out what they need so they can get them assistance to make their homes livable.

Photo of RV picked up during Tornado in Camden County

Camden County was under a tornado warning from about 5:45 p.m. until about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The tornado was at least the third confirmed Wednesday in the Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida area. The NWS estimates an EF-0 tornado touched down Wednesday morning in Columbia County. There were also reports of damage in Jacksonville after a confirmed EF-1 tornado early Wednesday evening.

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