At least one fatality was reported in Rabun County, Ga., as a result of a massive storm system that rolled through the southeast last week, spawning a record number of tornados as it tore through the region, leaving a path of destruction behind.
The death of one man in the area of Lake Burton was directly related to the storm. According to the county coroner’s office, Elbert Earl Patton, Jr., age 83, died of injuries sustained during the storm. Several injuries have also been reported.
According to the National Weather Service, as the weather system moved over North Georgia late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, a class three tornado with maximum wind speeds of 165 mph touched down at multiple locations along a 14 mile path in Rabun County, from Lake Burton in the south to Mountain City in the north. Around 11:30 p.m., the twister hit Mountain City, uprooting trees, tearing off roofs and tossing around small buildings.
Altogether, as many as 30 homes were destroyed and more than 50 were damaged in Rabun County. At places, the path of damage was as much as a half mile wide. A number of buildings and homes in the southern end of the county were totally demolished. According to National Weather Service reports, one home was ripped completely off of its concrete slab foundation and dropped into Lake Burton.
By Thursday afternoon, work crews had already made significant progress on clearing roads, but downed power lines still had some throughways closed to non-emergency personnel. Altogether, 100 roads in the county were closed due to downed trees and power lines.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency in Rabun County, as well as 15 other counties in the state.
The county has also been included among those covered in the Presidential Declaration for Public and Individual Assistance for communities across the region impacted by the storm. Agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were on the ground on Tuesday doing assessments. A disaster recovery center will be set up later this week were citizens will be able to go and apply for assistance.
Western bank of Lake Burton sees enormous damage
The most damaged areas surrounding Lake Burton remain closed off to anyone except for residents, cleanup crews and emergency personnel, including the Moccasin Creek Road community on the western bank.
On Saturday, the path of a tornado was still clearly visible by the razed homes and trees that stretched for miles, leaping over a section of the lake, before resuming its trail of destruction on the other side. Multimillion dollar homes and boathouses looked like broken up pop-stick models, debris strewn for miles or tossed into the lake.
A matter of yards often made all the difference. Robert McGee from Hiawasee who was touring the damage on his motorcycle said that a friend of his who has a lakeside home in one of the closed off areas was able to repair all the damage to his property – a few torn off shingles and fallen branches – in one morning.
“He told me that all his windows started rattling and the pressure shot up. He said it sounded like a jet engine. Not like one passing by, but like he was standing in the middle of one,” McGee said. “He was lucky.” Meanwhile, the home immediately next door to his friend’s lost its entire roof.
On Sunday, Marty Dixon, Deputy Director of the Rabun County Emergency Management Agency reported that search and rescue efforts in the Lake Burton area had been completed. All roads in the affected area have been cleared and opened with limited access to homeowners.
Waterways were opened Monday morning for unrestricted use, but boaters are still encouraged to use extreme caution while on the water due to debris in the water. Officers from the Department of Natural Resources will remain on the lake at least until May 8.
Macon County sees some damage but spared full brunt of storm
While Macon County did not see anything like the massive damage in Rabun County, at least two homes suffered severe storm damage. No injuries were reported as a result of the storm, but downed trees and at least one mudslide caused roads to be blocked. A number of burglar alarms were reported around the county, apparently triggered by the high winds.
One home in the Otto community was damaged by a fallen tree, which narrowly missed the resident who was reportedly sleeping inside. Another mobile home in Scaly Mountain was ripped from its foundation, possibly as a result of a twister that was detected in the area. No one was in the structure at the time.
According to the National Weather Service, tornado warnings were issued in Macon, Jackson, Transylvania, Haywood, Henderson and Buncombe counties. However, tornados were detected in only two areas in Western North Carolina over the night – in Macon as well as in the area of Wolf Mountain. According to Macon County Emergency Services Director Warren Cabe, at least two tornados were detected by radar in the county.
Duke Energy reported roughly 3,500 power outages in the region, the majority of which occurred in Henderson County.
Emergency Notification System
Many Macon County residents received phone calls on Wednesday evening alerting them to tornado warnings for the area and cautioning them to take precautions due to the impeding storm. These calls were part of the county's CodeRED Emergency Notification service that relays important information to residents in the case of an emergency.
According to Kim Sanders at Macon County Emergency Management, residents can sign up for the service online at the Macon County website (http://maconnc.org/). After going to the website, click the tab for “Residents” and then click on “Code Red Sign Up.” Users can register both landlines and cell phones for the service.
“Anyone that has not signed up already, we really encourage it,” Sanders says.
People that do not have internet access can call the 9-1-1 addressing office at (828)349-2063.
Supercell storm blamed for more than 300 deaths
Though North Carolina was spared the full force of this storm, before it got to the state the storm left a trail of death and destruction behind it. Officials are reporting more than 300 fatalities, including some 238 in the State of Alabama. On Friday, President Barack Obama visited the state and declared it a disaster area.
Called the deadliest tornado outbreak since the 1930s, hundreds of tornados were reported across the southeastern states, produced by what is called a “supercell” storm.
According to information on the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, supercells – rotating thunderstorms with a well-defined circulation called a “mesocyclone” – are responsible for the most destructive and deadly tornados. In addition, supercells can also produce damaging hail, severe non-tornadic winds, unusually frequent lightning and flash floods.
Though tornados most commonly occur in flat areas such as the American Midwest, tornados in mountainous regions are not unheard of. In 1985, a particularly devastating tornado occurred in Pennsylvania in a mountainous area.
This storm is simply the latest in a series that have wracked the region, including one which swept across North Carolina on April 16, spawning numerous tornados and causing massive damage. Federal and state government agencies have approved more than $2.8 million in aid for North Carolinians who were impacted by that storm.
The tornado system that moved through Rabun County on Wednesday reached category “Three” on the commonly used EF scale, or the “Enhanced Fujita Scale.” The EF scale classifies tornados into the following categories:
EF0 – Wind speeds 65 to 85 mph.
EF1 – Wind speeds 86 to 110 mph.
EF2 – Wind speeds 111 to 135 mph.
EF3 – Wind speeds 136 to 165 mph.
EF4 – Wind speeds 166 to 200 mph.
EF5 – Wind speeds greater than 200 mph.