NORTH GEORGIA: Town Flattened by Tornado

1:47 PM, Apr 28, 2011   |    comments
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RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Daybreak brought to light the devastating damage across Catoosa County, one of 16 Georgia counties now under a state of emergency. 

Parts of Ringgold, the county seat, were pummeled to pieces.

"Something like I've never seen before, except on TV." Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said Thursday.

At least seven lives were lost when a tornado touched down in the Ringgold business district at about 8:30 p.m., crushing a three-story Super 8 Motel near Interstate 75.

"It is pretty obvious, even from the ground, that this was a devastating tornado and in the case of Dade County, several devastating tornadoes," said Gov. Nathan Deal who visited Ringgold among other storm-ravaged areas on Thursday.

Officials said about 150 people were evacuated from the Ringgold area to a school in a neighboring town.

"We do still have people who are missing," Sheriff Phil Summers said. "As of this time, and we are still in the process of search and rescue."

Local leaders asked people to keep their community in their thoughts and prayers, but to stay away from the town while they continue their search efforts. All roads into Ringgold have been closed.

"The reason for that is safety and security," Summers said. He noted that there have been some reports of looting, but by and large the community has received lots of support. 

"We've got a lot of work, but thank goodness we've got a lot of help," he said. "This isn't going to be done in one day. This is something we've never seen before so we're here for the long haul, not for a short time."

"We're just Georgians helping each other," Deal said. "That's one of the great things about our state."

The storms sweeping across Georgia Wednesday night and Thursday morning have claimed at least 13 lives in all -- just a fraction of nearly 250 lives lost across the Southeast. 

"It is truly devastating," the governor said. "We're very fortunate we didn't have more loss of life because [the storm] covered a very wide area."

In addition to the seven people killed in Catoosa County, Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ken Davis said two people were Spalding County, two others were killed in Lamar County and two more were killed in Dade County.

However, Dade County Sheriff Patrick Cannon said three people died at an apartment complex there. Cannon said his family's home was also flattened in the storm, but his family was able to make it out and to the sheriff's department safely before the storm struck. 

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency in 16 Georgia counties: Bartow, Catoosa, Coweta, Dade, Floyd, Greene, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Spalding, Troup and Walker counties.

"The state of emergency designation releases all state resources to respond to dire needs in the affected counties, and it empowers Director English to bring together all the resources at our disposal so that we can take the lifesaving actions needed at this hour," Deal said.

"Right now, we're seeing fatalities, injuries and serious property damage in northwest Georgia and we've seen terrible damage to the east in Alabama from these same storms," Gov. Deal added. "Of course, President Obama has declared a federal state of emergency for parts of Alabama."

The governor said he will also be applying for a federal emergency declaration.

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, Georgia Power was reporting 45,000 people out of power statewide -- 650 of them in Metro Atlanta and 32,000 in the Rome, Trenton and Cartersville areas. North Georgia EMC reported 5,000 outages as of noon.

The first round of storms hit the Rome area hardest on Wednesday morning, knocking power out for tens of thousands. Berry College and Shorter College's Rome campus closed for the day due to storm damage and Floyd County Schools released students early.

Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston said a tornado was believed to have touched down in the Sugar Valley community, where he said three homes were "flattened," but no one was hurt. A roof was ripped off a building in Downtown Calhoun.

In Cherokee County, the National Weather Service reported two large trees down on power lines. 

Dozens of damage reports have already come in and many more are expected.  

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