Emergency responders rushed to answer new reports of deaths and injuries Sunday evening in southern Georgia as violent storms already blamed for killing 18 people in the Southeast continued to inflict destruction.
An apparent tornado blew through a mobile home park early Sunday in southern Georgia's rural Cook County, sheering off siding, upending homes and killing seven people, local authorities said. An eighth death was reported in Cook County by state officials, although it was unclear whether that victim lived in the park.
Another tornado later in the day in Albany resulted in another three deaths.
Two people apiece were confirmed dead in neighboring Georgia counties, bringing the state's toll to 14 a day after a reported tornado killed four in Mississippi early Saturday.
Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for seven south-central Georgia counties -- Atkinson, Berrien, Brooks, Colquitt, Cook, Lowndes and Thomas.
"It’s destroyed," Vanessa Jones said of her Albany neighborhood. "It looks like a war zone. All of the trees are snapped in half; trees on top of people's houses: power lines down. There is no way to get on that road or off that road without walking. Cars cannot go up and down. Power lines are everywhere."
The National Weather Service in Jacksonville said the storm "has the potential to be one of the most severe weather outbreaks since the 1993 super storm and possibly like the big tornado outbreak near the University of Alabama a few years ago."
Deal issued the following statement regarding the state of emergency:
These storms have devastated communities and homes in South Central Georgia, and the state is making all resources available to the impacted areas. These storms have resulted in loss of life, numerous injuries and extensive property damage, and our thoughts and prayers are with Georgians suffering from the storm’s impact. As we continue to assess the damage, I’m prepared to expand or extend this emergency declaration as needed. In addition to the state’s response, all indications suggest we will also be submitting a request for federal assistance as well.
Georgia emergency management officials released the following breakdown of where the fatalities occurred:
- Cook County -- 8 people
- Brooks County -- 2 people
- Berrien County -- 2 people
- Dougherty County - 3 people
WALB-TV in Albany, Georgia, reported that people were trapped under rubble caused by the storm.
Catherine Howden of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said Sunday morning that the deaths occurred in Cook, Brooks and Berrien counties.
In southern Georgia, two people were killed early Sunday by a possible tornado, officials from the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office confirmed. The two people who were killed were in a home together along Highway 122.
She said the deaths were related to severe weather but could not specify whether tornadoes were the cause. Tornado warnings had been issued for parts of Georgia overnight.
Tornado warnings extended east into southeast Georgia through the morning and afternoon, with a possible sighted in Camden County about 6:30 p.m. No significant damage was reported and the wall of storms that spawned all the bad weather moved offshore by 7:15.
Many homes and businesses were destroyed as the storm tore through southern Georgia. In Adel, the Bullard family was hit hard as two of the family's homes were turned to rubble.
"My granddaddy called my daddy about 4 o’clock, saying that my uncle’s house had gotten hit by a tornado," Jill Bullard said. "We all got up and come down here. Our farm’s destroyed right up there across the road. My uncle’s house is in half, it’s gone, he’s in the hospital right now but luckily we’re all safe and okay for the most part."
Bullard's said her uncle was in his house when a tornado ripped through it.
“He was actually sitting in the living room and he was asleep and he heard, (what) he thought it was a hurricane," Jacklyn Bullard said. "He went into his wife’s room and told her. Next thing you know, he was going to check in on his daughter, she was across the house, as he’s coming through, that’s when it (the tornado) came through his house and he got thrown out there in the ditch."
Jacklyn Bullard said her uncle and his daughter are in the hospital and expected to be OK. Her uncle's wife was uninjured.
It was a frightening moment for people in Folkston when they found out they were under a tornado watch.
"Oh man, I got woken up to my phone going off, telling me there was an alert," Mathew Abels said. "So I got up (and) looked. (I've) never seen it like this before."
South Georgia school systems respond
Ware County emergency management reported no major damage, but flooded roadways could be a problem for drivers. No trees down, or issues, but emergency management says the major roads people travel through there are covered with rainwater.
Ware County schools have canceled classes Monday due to impassable road conditions. Students and staff will both have the day off. District officials will meet with county road officials, the sheriff's official and Waycross police on Monday afternoon to determine when schools will reopen.
Brantley and Pierce county schools also canceled classes for Monday due to weather conditions. Students and staff will have the day off.
Shelters open across central, southern Georgia
Two shelters have been established in Cook County -- Adel First Assembly of God at 1601 Massee Post Road and at the First Baptist Church of Adel at 200 East 5th Street.
Families in Adel, Georgia, seeking information about missing individuals are urged to contact the Adel First Assembly of God at 229-896-3935 or 229-561-2875 or call the First Baptist Church of Adel at 229-561-1201.
A shelter opened in Valdosta, Georgia at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center at 1 Meeting Place. They can be reached a 229-245-0513.
Life after a tornado
The American Red Cross issued the following suggestions for what to do following a tornado:
- Continue listening to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions.
- If you are away from home, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so.
- Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes when examining your walls, doors, staircases and windows for damage.
- Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately.
- Stay out of damaged buildings.
- Use battery-powered flashlights when examining buildings – do NOT use candles.
- If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out of the building quickly and call the gas company or fire department.
- Take pictures of damage, both of the building and its contents, for insurance claims.
- Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
- Keep all of your animals under your direct control.
- Clean up spilled medications, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids that could become a fire hazard.
- Check for injuries. If you are trained, provide first aid to persons in need until emergency responders arrive.