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Former coach describes overwhelming scene at North Hall High School

POSTED: March 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Greg Williams, who was a coach at North Hall High School, arrived at the school just after the tornado hit March 20, 1998.

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All Greg Williams wanted to do on March 20, 1998, was fix things the way they had been the day before.

He was the head boys basketball coach at North Hall High School the day a tornado came through the north end of the county and left a scar on the school.

Before anyone had known it was coming, the storm had damaged part of the school’s vocational wing, leveled a greenhouse attached to the school and demolished several trailers — most of which were used for classrooms — including the one that housed the family of the school’s head custodian, Barbara Little. Little’s husband, Calvin, her daughter and grandson were killed.

And all Williams wanted to do was make it better.

Williams, now the athletic director at West Hall High School, remembers his reaction when his wife told him a tornado might have hit the school that morning 10 years ago. Williams jumped in his truck.

"I tore up the road up Jim Hood to North Hall, and got through just in time," Williams said. "I guess the police were starting to block off the roads, and I had just gotten through in time."

Williams arrived to hear the sound of disaster, people and sirens screaming, and experience the sight of it, downed power lines and debris, before emergency workers blocked off the roads and blocked outsiders from seeing what Williams saw.

"You could really see the carnage then," Williams said. "I mean, there was stuff strung all over the parking lot, all up in the trees."

Pieces of mobile homes, insulation and two by fours, and personal belongings were hanging from the trees around the Mount Vernon Road school, Williams recalls.

"Some people were running around screaming," Williams said. "I remember looking across the road and there were some mobile homes that were across the road and they were gone."

The sun was out when then-Gov. Zell Miller flew in on a helicopter. The National Guard had arrived to support the Hall County deputies, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Many of Williams’ decade-old memories have faded into light recollections, but helping move the deceased still weighs heavy on his mind 10 years later.

As emergency workers covered the bodies of the deceased, Williams and others picked them up and placed them on a vehicle.

"That was probably the worst thing of all," he said.

Williams worked all day that horrible Friday, and he was at the school working the rest of the week. Like everyone, he just kept working, because he wanted to get things back to normal.

"We were just all overwhelmed about what we went through that day," Williams said. "It was quite a day, quite a day."

Some members of the North Hall family were gone, many were shaken, but the school was able to resume classes one week later.

Life eventually returned to normal, and Williams’ mind was able to shake off some of the weight of the wrath of the 1998 tornado.

"I know it was a horrible day, but pretty much after that it just kind of blends away," Williams said.


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