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News Picking up the pieces: Rabun County residents count their blessings

Many homes and automobiles were buried under trees and branches following last Wednesday’s storm. On Thursday, volunteer crews worked in Mountain City to open up access roads and remove debris. One resident, Karen Byers of North Johnson Rd., called the crew of volunteers from Koster Construction in Franklin “a godsend.” Photo by Vickie CarpenterFranklin construction crew volunteers during Mountain City cleanup

“This can all be taken care of,” said Karen Byers. “We’re alright, our animals are alright, so we're just thankful.”

Byers was surprisingly upbeat on Saturday as she looked around her Mountain City home surveying the destruction done by severe weather last Wednesday night, especially given the uprooted trees and extensive damage done to her house on N. Johnson Ave. A large section had been ripped from her roof, and pieces of galvanized roofing lay hanging in branches and strewn across her neighbor's property.

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Then there was her business, Tiger Mountain Cutlery on Hwy 441 South which Karen owns with her husband Thad, a whole room of which had been ripped off and deposited next to a fallen tree in the middle of the highway.

Byers says that at least two tornados ripped through Mountain City during the night. The first one around 11:30 p.m. knocked down a very large oak, as large as four feet across at its base. The tree was pulled up by its roots and tossed like straw into the highway, blocking it completely.

“We were in bed when I heard the roar,” Byers said. “I heard trees start coming down, and I hollered for [my husband] to get out of the bed. By the time we got in the hallway, we could hear the roof coming off. And then it got quiet.”

Later, around 2 a.m., a crew which had arrived to clear the road had to evacuate when a second twister was spotted coming up the highway. “You could hear the roar – there was another tornado,” remembered Byers, who says she can't recall another tornado having ever been reported in Rabun County.

Downed powerlines cut service and closed down numerous roads in Mountain City on Thursday. Crews from Georgia Power (above) worked to restore service and remove dangers on Rogers Cove Rd. Photo by Vickie CarpenterCorrine Wilkerson was in the next house down with her three grandchildren: Edward, Michael, and Jessica. The children were asleep, but as the wind grew more violent, she went to wake them up.

“It sounded about like a freight train,” said Wilkerson. Little Jessica, five years old, had just walked into the hallway when a tree fell on the roof of the house and the ceiling in her bedroom collapsed on her bed.

“Just a few seconds more and ... ,” said her father, Paul Edison, ominously. “She's still terrified,” he added. Edison, who had been in South Carolina on the night of the storm, was on Saturday helping to retrieve the family's belongings from the house.

The same tree that had collapsed on the house and put a hole in the ceiling also landed on Wilkerson's car, totaling it. More than a dozen trees in the adjacent property around the home had been tossed about like toothpicks.

“I’m just grateful we're all okay,” said Wilkerson, hugging her grandkids.

Macon County construction crew volunteers for clean up

On N. Johnson Road, the hero of the day was a Macon County construction crew which had arrived Thursday morning volunteering to reopen roads and clear debris in Mountain City. According to residents, the crew from Koster Construction in Franklin, worked all day in the neighborhood.

“We are so grateful,” said Byers of the Koster team. “We tried to pay them, but they wouldn't take anything. All they would take was water.” Byers said the crew was working up and down her street all day long.

What the families couldn't keep for fire wood, the workers put in the Koster chipper. Byers noted that clearing the roads and getting the properties cleaned up had to be done before the power company could repair damaged lines and reconnect houses. “They were a godsend,” said Byers.

Steve Koster, owner of Koster Construction, who was reached on Monday for comment, said that his crew worked in Mountain City all day on Thursday, clearing trees and chipping debris.

“The good Lord spared us, so I thought we might as well go down there and help them,” he said. Koster, who lives in the southern part of Macon County near the Georgia/Rabun County border said he had debris in his yard that he suspected was from Mountain City. “We did what we could to get people back into their homes and get access opened back up.”

Over the weekend, Koster was also in Sulphur Springs, Ala., helping with clean up in that community. “Alabama is a hundred times worse than what I saw there in Mountain City,” said Koster. In the area he was working, an entire family had been killed in the storm. “It was really hard to see all that devastation.”

Red Cross shelter set up in Clayton

Over the weekend, numerous Red Cross vehicles were seen driving around Mountain City. Larry Tyson, director of the North East Georgia Chapter of the Red Cross based in Gainsville, Ga., said the teams were in the area to do damage assessment and get out information about the Red Cross shelter which had been set up at Clayton Baptist Church, 87 South Church Street.

“We’re a connecting point to get resources and people together,” said Tyson. “Anybody who needs assistance should come to the Red Cross shelter so we can help them.”

One Red Cross volunteer from Hiawassee said, “By the grace of God, this didn't hit our homes, so we are happy to be able to be here to help them.”

Besides shelter, the Red Cross offers other services such as shower facilities, food, snacks and water to anyone from the affected area in Rabun County who needs it. For more information, contact the Red Cross Call Center at (404)870- 4440. The Call Center is manned from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Macon County offers assistance

There were no injuries reported in Macon County and damage was minimal, so Macon emergency personnel were able to offer valuable assistance to its neighbor south of the border after last weeks storm.

The Otto Fire Department provided assistance to Rabun County emergency personnel on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The Macon County Sheriff's Office and Emergency Management personnel supplied support to Rabun County in the aftermath of the storm.

“All in all we were very fortunate,” said Warren Cabe, Macon County's director of Emergency Management. Cabe reported that while the county had avoided the extreme damage seen to the south, there were at least three structures in Macon that were significantly damaged in the storm and at least one confirmed tornado in the vicinity of Scaly Mountain.

The tornado in Scaly Mountain, categorized as an EF0, had wind speeds up to 80 mph and was about 30 yards long. Extensive damage was done to a mobile home in the area which was blown off its foundation. Another home in Otto was also damaged by storm winds which toppled a tree.

Where to go in the event of a tornado

In the face of more potential storms in the coming weeks, Cabe encouraged residents to review storm and tornado preparedness measures. In the event of an impending tornado, the safest place to be is in a basement away from windows or some other small room in the interior of a home, preferably under a door frame or reinforced area.

Vehicles and mobile homes are not safe places to seek shelter, said Cabe. In an emergency, he recommended seeking shelter in public buildings, churches or with neighbors. He noted that while public buildings such as firehouses may not be equipped to act as long-term shelters, they can provide temporary safety in the event of a tornado.

“If you're caught outside and have no where else to go, find a low-lying area, lower than the surrounding environment,” Cabe advised as a last resort.

As always, residents are advised to keep an easily accessible emergency kit on hand with such items as first aid supplies, water, canned food, non-electric can opener, flashlights, batteries and other essential items.


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