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Strong storms hit Forsyth County

High winds tip trees, power lines; Hall sees minimal damage

POSTED: March 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Jim Dean/Times regional staff

County facilities employee Roy Born uses a lift to check out the roof of fire station 14 in Forsyth County. The force of the storm blew all four bay doors out of the building.

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Rita David said she’s ready to move into a house without a tree in sight after an early morning squall Tuesday sent a large oak crashing through the bedroom of her home in south Forsyth County.

"I was watching TV when they said it would hit in about 14 minutes, and boom, I thought the world was ending," David said.

Across the state, more than 90,000 electricity customers lost power as a fast-moving thunderstorm system moved across North Georgia, knocking down trees and causing an estimated $10 million in damage to hundreds of homes. The storms moved through ahead of a cold front that brought colder temperatures and brisk winds.

Forsyth County Fire Capt. Jason Shivers said local firefighters were ready for the storm, having watched it approach on radar since early in the morning.

"We’re still counting, but right now it looks like we will have around 30 homes in south Forsyth with trees either on or through them," Shivers said.

Blake House, a spokesman for Sawnee EMC, said the worst of the storm hit between 6:30 and 7 a.m., when 11,000 customers of the utility in Cherokee and western Forsyth counties lost power. As of early Tuesday afternoon, service had been restored to all but a few homes, which suffered serious storm damage, House said.

Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace did not have an exact figure of customers who lost power in Forsyth County.

Wallace did say, however, that service was disrupted to 8,600 customers in the company’s metro North Atlanta region, which includes Forsyth. Capt. Frank Huggins with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said 911 received many calls, including 11 involving trees or power lines down, as the storm crossed the area between 6:40 and 8 a.m.

Two of those calls — at Union Hill and Shiloh roads and Fernbank Drive — involved trees falling on houses.

The sheriff’s office handled three wrecks during that same span, none of which involved injuries, Huggins said. In addition, he said there were reports of utility wires on the ground at several intersections.

Huggins said there also was a report of a possible tornado touching down at 4954 Shiloh Road, though that could not be verified.

"The caller said she saw it touch down in her backyard," he said. "There was damage to trees and power lines at that location, but no structural damage."

David was awake when the tree came crashing into the bedroom of her Fernbank Drive home because her husband, Mike, told her to watch for the storm as he left for work. Mike David rushed home a short time later and spent the morning cleaning debris from the roof so he could put a tarp over the hole and wait for an insurance adjuster.

The Davids’ neighbor, Ericka Burke, had a more frightening morning.

The top snapped off a pine tree in her front yard and came crashing into the bedroom where her 7-year-old son was asleep.

"I’m glad it didn’t come all the way through the roof," said Burke, as she watched firefighters work to remove the tree so they could put up a tarp.

Even Forsyth County rescuers weren’t spared the wrath of Tuesday’s storm. Firefighter Andrea Wright had just arrived for the shift change when the storm struck Station 14. The force of the wind blew the south bay doors into the building and the north bay doors into the front parking lot.

"We thought it might be a tornado, so we hid in the bathroom until it passed," Wright said.

Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell, who also is the county’s Emergency Management Agency director, said the only damagereported included a couple of trees down and some brief power outages in a couple of areas. Kimbrell said there were also several minor wrecks during the heavy rain.

In Carroll County, west of Atlanta, two houses were destroyed in the town of Bowdon near the Alabama line. Linda Bryant, 64, was severely injured when she was blown from her house, according to her son.

Many residents of the county and in suburban areas north of Atlanta were certain they had been hit by tornadoes. Officials were analyzing the damage and the paths of the storms to determine whether twisters were responsible.

Sean Ryan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said a tornado was unlikely. He said damage reported across several metro Atlanta counties seemed to indicate straight-line winds and not a tornado.

Members of The Times and Forsyth County News staffs and the Associated Press contributed to this story.



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