Debris piles up as St. Marys homes in path of EF-2 tornado cleanup

Piles of debris growing along 3.65-mile path of tornado in Camden County

ST. MARYS, Ga. – Neighbors in Camden County continued the long and tedious process Friday of cleaning up after Tropical Storm Elsa.

An EF-2 tornado spawned from the storm Wednesday left a path of destruction across St. Marys and the Kings Bay Navy base.

City officials said 45-50 homes in the areas of Norris Street, Point Peter Road and on the at Naval Station Kings Bay were affected. Citizens in need of assistance or social services can call the Salvation Army at 912-882-2200.

Piles of debris are growing around neighborhoods in St. Marys that were in the 3.65-mile path of the tornado, which packed estimated peak wind speeds of 130 mph.

Piles of debris are growing in Camden County after an EF-2 tornado ripped through the area during Tropical Storm Elsa. (WJXT)

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.

PHOTOS: Florida, Georgia clean up after destruction from Elsa

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

Neighbors are coming together to help each other as large piles of fence and tree debris could be seen lining streets in St. Marys on Friday.

Some streets remained blocked off because of downed powerlines.

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.

Near Norris Street, major damage could be seen to a home where a structure in front of the home was left unrecognizable.

On Conyers Street, a large tree was uprooted and fell over onto a house that was left with significant roof damage. A carport on the property was left tilted on its side Friday morning.

A large tree toppled onto a home, damaging the roof in St. Marys. (WJXT)

The owner, Charlie Jacobs, was reading a book on his porch right before the tornado hit.

“It was so fierce. I’ve been through a lot of the hurricanes and strong winds. ... This put them to shame,” Jacobs said. “I thought the side of the house was going to come in, but it didn’t.”

But the tornado caused plenty of other damage, and Jacobs thinks it will cost at least $50,000 to fix everything.

He admits this tornado scared him.

“I’ve never run to a shower, bed, gotten under anything. I’m not afraid of it. This time I did because I felt like these windows were going to come in,” Jacobs said.

For people like Jacobs and others who are putting pieces of their lives back together, Christ Church Pastor Jon McClarnon and others who were out volunteering Friday for cleanup want them to know they have people they can lean on.

“Unfortunately, these people have suffered this tragedy but as people in the community, it actually is a unifying thing,” McClarnon said.

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.

St. Marys City Manager Robby Horton said Thursday that thankfully no injuries were reported in the St. Marys areas, but NWS said it’s aware of 17 total injuries as a result of the storm, 11 of which resulted in hospitalizations. Kings Bay officials reported about 10 of those injuries on the base.

Horton said the tornado carved a clear path through the neighborhood.

“We had one tree that was picked up and thrown about 20 feet, but the thing about it was when it went into the ground, it went down 4 feet and punctured one of our waterlines,” Horton said.

Those water lines were repaired and a boil order that was in effect in downtown areas was lifted at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Crews were finishing up power restoration.

There are drainage issues on some dirt roads in unincorporated Camden County, officials said. Trash trucks for unincorporated Camden County’s Curbside Collection are unable to travel down roads covered by standing water or partially washed out.

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.

Trash pickup is running a day behind schedule. Anyone with questions is asked contact the St. Marys Water Department at 912-510-4001.

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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