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Worst of storms miss Hall: 'We were very fortunate'

Little damage reported here as severe storms swept across North Georgia

POSTED: March 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

A power pole was snapped in half causing a power outage and traffic problems at the intersection of Dawsonville Highway and McEver Road.

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It could have been worse.

A fierce line of thunderstorms that whipped through Hall County on Saturday afternoon brought heavy rains, high winds, hail and unconfirmed reports of funnel clouds, but little damage to homes and no serious injuries.

“I think we dodged a major bullet,” Hall County Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Scott Cagle said.

As power flickered on and off and many residents hunkered down in their basements with a tornado warning in effect, some reported seeing funnel clouds shortly before 2 p.m. in the areas of West Hall High School, Holiday Marina, Candler Highway and Shallowford Road, Cagle said. There was no confirmation that a tornado touched down, but National Weather Service officials will make a field assessment today.

“It was kind of perfect conditions for tornadoes to form,” from the line of supercell thunderstorms that passed through Hall County from the west, National Weather Service forecaster Stephen Konarik said. Polk and Bartow counties in northwest Georgia were hardest hit Saturday.

“Compared to a lot of other areas (Hall County) fared a lot luckier,” Konarik said.

At the height of the storm between 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., more than an inch and a half of rain fell in Gainesville, according to the National Weather Service. The city got 2.23 inches of rain for the day.

About 8,000 customers in Hall County lost power, Georgia Power spokesman John Sell said.

At the Downtown Mobile Home park on McConnell Road off Atlanta Highway, some 22 trailers were flooded, including seven or eight trailers that were under water, said owner Shane Reidling. Close to 100 residents were displaced, taking temporary refuge at Lyman Hall Elementary School. Reidling estimated a minimum of $10,000 in damage to the homes, some with underpinnings destroyed. Four cars were flooded out in the low-lying area.

“It was no joke,” Reidling said of the storm. “But I’d much rather see water than I would a tornado.”

At Milton Martin Honda on Browns Bridge Road, “quite a few” of the lot’s 500 new and used cars sustained light to moderate hail damage, vice president and general manager Butch Miller said. Some were severely damaged, he said.

Several customers came to the dealership with windshields, back windows or side mirrors broken by hail, Miller said.

A broken utility pole and transformer explosion closed down McEver Road at Dawsonville Highway, snarling traffic.

At Aqualand Marina near Flowery Branch, a downed tree led to one minor injury, with a man sustaining a small cut to the head that did not require medical treatment, Hall County Sheriff’s Capt. Donnie Jarrard said.

Sheriff’s officials called in 14 extra patrol deputies to work an increased call load of wrecks, trees in roads and alarm activations, Maj. Jeff Strickland said.

Cagle said their appeared to be no damage to any homes or businesses.

“Just a lot of funnel cloud sightings,” he said. “There was a lot of excitement with that, but nothing significant, and no signs of a touchdown.”

In South Hall County, the bad weather changed weekend plans for many.
Some 40 youngsters and young adults had planned to gather at Heaven’s View Baptist Church in South
Hall for lunch and then head to youth pastor Jamie Buice’s home in Banks County for an overnight trip.

The group ended up hunkering in bathrooms and two Sunday schools on the bottom of the floor of the Spout Springs Road church, munching on hamburgers and waiting for stormy weather to pass.

“We’ve had some future preachers ... praying for the Lord to keep us safe,” Buice said. “This is our slogan: The best place to be is in God’s house while this is going on.”

As the tornado warning had expired, a tornado watch was still in place and safe travel to Banks County wasn’t assured. So, between storms that had produced marble-sized hail and torrential rain, the group, varying in age from 4 to 20, played football on the church’s front lawn.

Elsewhere, a group was readying for a birthday party Saturday evening at the Flowery Branch Historic Train Depot & Museum in downtown Flowery Branch.

A Flowery Branch police officer interrupted the work to say a tornado warning had been issued for the area, said F.B. Turner, a museum volunteer.

“Hail came down and ... water was just rolling down (the street),” said Turner, who ended up riding out the storm in the depot’s basement, protected by high, thick concrete walls.

In her home off Clarks Bridge Road near Clermont, Jennifer Collins took cover in her basement with her husband, parents and 7-year-old daughter, heeding a warning from the family’s weather radio as quarter-sized hail fell outside.

“The sky would go from light to dark,” she said. “When you think back to what happened in North Hall so many years ago, it scares you. You never know — you have to be ready.”

The storm came just five days prior to the 10th anniversary of a deadly tornado in Hall County that claimed 12 lives.

“We were very fortunate today,” Jarrard, the sheriff’s captain, said Saturday. “Hall County is blessed.”

Times reporter Jeff Gill contributed to this report.



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