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Ringgold residents return to 'utter devastation' | News

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Ringgold residents return to 'utter devastation'
Ringgold residents return to 'utter devastation'

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- As homeowners hit by this week's tornadoes take stock of what's left and what's lost, they are looking to the state and federal government for help getting their lives back together.

RELATED: 11Alive to host tornado relief special Friday

"We need some federal money to help with the front-end cost and for the long term for individuals," Gov. Nathan Deal told 11Alive News.

He spoke to the president by phone and sent him a letter requesting federal assistance. "He obviously expressed sympathy to the families that had lost individuals, but also promised that he would have the federal agencies to continue to work with our state agencies."

"It is a terrible situation; there's going to be a lot of aftermath, of clean up of debris removal and things of that sort," Deal added, calling the damage "utter devastation."

15 people were killed across Georgia in this week's storms.

The names of the Ringgold victims were released Friday afternoon: Kelsea Black, 16; Pamela Black, 46; Cody Black, 21; Christopher Black, 47; Holly Readus, 26; Robert Jones, 47; Jack Estep, 61; Ray McClannahan, 86.

Ringgold letting some people back

Ringgold, Ga. was nearly wiped off the map by an EF-4 tornado, one of at least 10 confirmed in the state so far. Conditions are so bad, all the roads in and out of the northwest Georgia town were closed until Friday morning. School has already been cancelled for all of next week.

Only residents and business owners with special passes are now being allowed to return. They have to prove why they need to be in the damaged area and show identification.

The general public is still asked to stay away.

"The reason for that is safety and security," said Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers. 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."

Town flattened by powerful tornado

Daybreak Thursday brought to light the devastating damage across Catoosa County, one of 16 Georgia counties now under a state of emergency. 

"The state of emergency designation releases all state resources to respond to dire needs in the affected counties, and it empowers [GEMA] Director [Charley] English to bring together all the resources at our disposal," Gov. Deal said.

At least eight lives were lost when a tornado touched down in the Ringgold business district at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, 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," Gov. Deal said when he visited the town among other storm-ravaged areas on Thursday.

"Something like I've never seen before, except on TV," Sheriff Summer said.  

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," the sheriff said. "We are still in the process of search and rescue."

A missing persons hotline has been set up for people looking for loved ones who disappeared in the storm. The numbers are 706-965-7138 and 706-965-7139.

At least 13 confirmed tornadoes

By Friday afternoon, National Weather Service survey teams were able to determine that at least 13 tornadoes hit Georgia during Wednesday's outbreak. The twisters hit more than 20 counties across the state.

The tornado that leveled Ringgold was classified as an EF-4 twister, with winds of 175 miles per hour. Forecasters said it tracked from Davis Ridge Road, through the city of Ringgold, to Cohutta and into Tennessee.

An EF-3 tornado with winds of 140 mph touched down 6 miles north-northeast of Gay, Ga., in Meriwether County and tracked 20 miles across parts of Meriwether, Spalding and Henry counties before lifting two miles south of Hampton.

Another EF-3 tornado with winds of 150 mph tracked across Dade and Walker counties for 18 miles after coming in from Alabama.

An EF-3 tornado with 140 mph winds crossed Pike, Lamar, Monroe and Butts counties for a distance of 30 miles with a half-mile wide track.

An EF-3 tornado with 150 mph winds crossed Bartow, Cherokee and Pickens counties for a distance of 23 miles.

An EF-3 tornado with 150 mph winds crossed Polk, Floyd and Bartow counties for a distance of 26 miles.

And another EF-2 tornado with maximum winds of about 140 mph ran from 6 miles southwest of Cave Spring, and tracked 26 miles through parts of Polk, Floyd and Bartow counties before lifting about 4 miles southwest of Kingston.

Two EF-1 tornadoes passed through Dade County - one with 100 mph winds ran 7 miles Wednesday morning, while a second storm Wednesday evening, with max winds of about 110 mph, tracked into the county from Alabama between Fox Mountain and Rising Fawn.

Another EF-1 tornado passed through parts of Newton, Morgan and Greene counties with winds of 105 mph early Thursday morning. It ran for 25 miles on the ground between a point 1 mile to the west of Norwood, and 6 miles west of Greensboro.

And an EF-1 tornado with 105 mph winds touched down near Norwood and lifted near Camak in Warren County early Thursday morning.

The Weather Service was surveying additional counties on Friday.

Georgia death toll climbs

Authorities say the death toll from fierce storms that tore through Georgia has climbed to at least 14.

An official with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said Thursday the latest death was reported in Rabun County in the northeast corner of the state.

Rabun County Coroner Sam Beck said a man was in his home in the path of a storm that moved through the county. No other details were immediately available, and Beck said officials were working to contact the man's family.

'When God's ready for me, He's going to take me'

"When God's ready for me, He's going to take me."

As far as Kirk Green knows, those were some of the last words spoken by his older brother only a few hours before a tornado killed him and his caretaker early Thursday morning.

Invalided by a work accident and a stroke a few years ago, 55-year-old Charlie Green and his caretaker, 22-year-old Jamie White, were in his mobile home off Fairview Road in Southwest Spalding County when a tornado literally blew it to smithereens.

All that is left of the mobile home is a deck-style front porch and scattered cinderblocks from the foundation.

The rest is a large field of tiny pieces of debris strewn over more than 100 yards.

"It just makes me appreciate that I've got a loving relationship with Jesus Christ because that's really the only way I can get through it," said Kirk Green.

As he and other family members combed through the remains Thursday afternoon, he related his brother's last words to their mother when she called him Wednesday night to suggest he seek cover from approaching storms.

"He told her, 'you know, when God's ready for me, He's going to take me'," Green said.

"Little did he know his time was sooner than expected," he added.

Although he has lost his brother, Kirk Green is more concerned about the family of caretaker Jamie White, whose body was found huddled with Charlie's in the rubble.

"She was very brave; she could have jumped ship, but she stayed," he said.

"The biggest tragedy of this whole thing is the young lady had three young children, and it just makes me extremely sad for those children that they're not going to be able to grow up knowing their mom," he added.

Deadly storms pummel Georgia

The storms that swept across Georgia Wednesday night and Thursday morning claimed just a fraction of the nearly 300 lives lost across the Southeast.

State officials said at least 114 people were injured across the state. In addition to the eight people in Catoosa and Rabun counties, deaths were also reported in Catoosa, Dade, Lamar and Spalding counties.

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

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. 

The 16 counties that have been declared under a state of emergency are Bartow, Catoosa, Coweta, Dade, Floyd, Greene, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Spalding, Troup and Walker.

There was an abundance of storm damage off Murphy Road in rural Troup County. But many residents seemed to be talking most about one destroyed home in particular -- because of what happened to it, and because of who was inside.

Mike Hornsby and his wife Susan were inside.

Hornsby is the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. He and and his wife sought refuge in a bathroom as the storm surged onto their property.

"And we could just tell it was getting real bad with the wind," Susan Hornsby said. "We felt the house being lifted up."

"We could feel it up in the air, feel it moving," Mike Hornsby said. "And actually, I could tell that the house was coming apart."

When the storm passed, the Hornsbys' house had been lifted from its foundation, twisted 90 degrees and moved 100 feet to the east.

Gaines Road in Bartow County is lined with storm damaged homes and dozens of victims, most of them members of the same family.

The violent storm that blew through the town of White destroyed Scott Huskins' home and years of family history.

"I've worked since I was 16-years-old," said Huskins while choking back tears. "It's all gone."

Huskins lives on a street where most of his neighbors are cousins, nephews, aunts and uncles. He grew up in the home destroyed by the storm, a house built by his father. He helped build several homes for family members, all of them ravaged by the weather.

Isolated damage was reported across Gwinnett County following a round of overnight thunderstorms that moved across the county late Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

"We are very fortunate that the storms broke apart and lessened in intensity as they moved into our area," Gwinnett Fire Captain Tommy Rutledge said in a news release early Thursday morning.

As of Friday, Georgia Power was reporting 22,500 people still without power statewide, none in Metro Atlanta.

Tornadoes leave path of destruction in Alabama

Storms blasted Alabama before entering Georgia Wednesday, cutting a path of destruction, killing at least 210 people.

Parts of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham took the brunt of the destruction, as a large supercell tornado ripped a path through Tuscaloosa and continued to tear across the north side of Birmingham.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called out the National Guard to assist in the hardest hit areas. "This has been a very serious and deadly event that's affected our state," he said.

Video images aired live on 11Alive News late Wednesday afternoon showed a tornado cutting through parts of Tuscaloosa before later slamming into the north side of Birmingham.

President Obama: Storm damage is 'catastrohic'

President Barack Obama called the damage in tornado-stricken states across the Southeast "nothing short of catastrophic."

Speaking at the White House, Obama said the loss of life has
been heartbreaking, especially in Alabama, which was hit hardest. He declared a state of emergency for that state.

Obama said the federal government will do everything it can to help the states recover and rebuild. He said the first responders who have been helping those in the region are heroes.

The president traveled to Alabama Friday to survey the damage and meet with the governor and families devastated by the storms.

"Never seen devastation like this," the president said in Tuscaloosa. "We're going to make sure you're not forgotten."

An unrelenting storm system

11Alive's Chris Holcomb and Paul Ossmann said the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham was responsible for the damage in Ringgold. That particular storm finally dissipated once it entered the North Carolina mountains. 

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. 

The entire storm system stretched from Texas to New England on Wednesday. 

"The storms are just amazingly explosive and they're covering a very large area," said Greg Carbin with the Storm Prediction Center. 

The entire tornado season has been explosive, and it's still early.

"We may finish out April with more than 300 tornadoes," Carbin said. "It looks like it will be a record-breaker as far as shear numbers go. The numbers for April are definitely on a record pace." 

National Weather Service forecasters said Wednesday that May is usually the most prolific month when it comes to severe weather.

In the video boxes below, you can see videos of the storms that hit parts of Alabama on Wednesday. 



Untitled from Crimson Tide Productions on Vimeo.


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