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Tornadoes, strong storms hit Hall County hard

Homes in East Hall damaged; storm forces evacuations at two schools

POSTED: August 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Hall County firefighters walk around the perimeter of Lyman Hall Elementary School after Tuesday's storm caused damage at the school.

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A day of severe storms and possible tornadoes left numerous homes, schools and businesses damaged across Hall County and the region. 

Three families in East Hall were displaced from their homes today following a severe storm that hit the area just after 6 p.m.

Three homes at 5211, 5235 and 5245 Timberridge Road and another at 5215 Hewell Drive suffered severe roof damage. The front porch of one of the Timber Ridge homes was destroyed.

There were no injuries. All three families are staying with other family members in the area. Power lines are down in the area and Hewell and Timberridge will be closed for at least another hour while officials clean up the area.

Hall County sheriff's deputies will remain at all three homes overnight to protect the families' belongings.

Earlier in the afternoon, damage was reported at two Hall County elementary schools as well as several homes and businesses after a strong thunderstorm and possible tornado came through the county.

A tornado watch continues in the area until 2 a.m. and a flood warning until 1 a.m.

Remnants of Tropical Storm Fay deluged the area with nearly a foot of water between Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon. Since Sunday evening, Lake Lanier has gained 1.15 feet of water at the Buford Dam, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Survey reported lake levels at 1,054.39 feet above sea level at Buford Dam.

Funnel clouds sighted
Tornado sirens first sounded in Hall County around 3:30 p.m. after reports that a tornado was spotted near Oakwood and headed north.

The National Weather Service could not confirm that a tornado had touched down, but officials said they received numerous calls of tornado sightings. Weather service Doppler radar indicated a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado near Oakwood.

Three minor injuries were reported in the storm’s immediate aftermath.

Megan Gill, a freshman at Gainesville State College, said she saw the funnel cloud near the Atlanta Falcons complex when she was picking up her brother from C.W. Davis Middle School.

Several Hall County sheriff’s deputies reported a funnel cloud on the ground around Oakwood, according to Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland. He said the storm appeared to continue from Oakwood into Gainesville.

Schools evacuated
Both Lyman Hall and Oakwood elementary schools suffered roof damage as well as gas leaks and damage to their air conditioning and heating units.

Lyman Hall suffered damage to the gymnasium and one classroom. Oakwood Elementary has four classrooms with roof damage.

Despite the damage, the schools will be open Wednesday and operate normally, according to Superintendent Will Schofield.

Law enforcement authorities evacuated about 65 Lyman Hall students and 50 to 70 faculty members to a nearby fire station. A pregnant woman was reported to have been treated there for a stress-related condition.

A gas leak was reported at the school, which led to the closing of Memorial Park Drive.

Assistant principal Veronica Grizzle was reported injured when she slipped and fell. Schofield said reports from the hospital were "favorable."

The road to the school was closed. There were only a few students remaining at the school when the evacuation began, according to Hall County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Kiley Sargent. They all had been picked up by parents by 6:15 p.m.

Sargent said several homes off Pinecrest Drive and Titshaw Drive near Lyman Hall were damaged by fallen trees. One roof was reported off at a mobile home and the owner suffered an injured ankle.

Another home in the area was reported damaged on Apache Circle. The family was displaced by the damage.

Oakwood Elementary School also suffered reported roof damage in the first-grade wing. Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said the school’s YMCA after-school students were in the building but there were no injuries. Students were evacuated to Oakwood City Hall.

At Flowery Branch High School, students were kept in the gymnasium until 4:45 p.m. Buses already had left the school. Most of the students remaining were athletes and cheerleaders. Students at Flowery Branch High School were brought back into the building after school let out at 3:25 p.m., Hall school Superintendent Will Schofield said.

West Hall High School also was in lockdown and head football coach Mike Newton reported flooding in his office. Principal Jackie Adams said the school also suffered from several roof leaks.

Gainesville businesses damaged
The parking lot at the Office Depot shopping center was littered with debris following shopping center employees’ sighting of funnel clouds along the road shortly after 4 p.m.

A roughly 40-foot long roof awning from the front portion of the Verizon Wireless store in the shopping center lay in front of The Office Depot about 100 feet away from the cell phone store. At the Dollar Zone clothing store in the same shopping center, a truck topper lay in front of a large window that was completely shattered.

Across the street from Verizon Wireless, a billboard sign had fallen and crushed a truck on sale at the Auto Gallery.

Authorities have not confirmed any injuries at the shopping center.

David Jenkins, a salesman at the Verizon Wireless store on Browns Bridge Road, said he estimates the awning the storm ripped off the small store weighs about 1,000 pounds. He said he was inside the store when the storm hit, and said he clearly saw the funnel clouds from behind the glass windows.

"The whole roof kind of popped in and out. The air conditioning on the roof came off its bases," Jenkins said. "It just got completely black and the rain was falling even harder. We saw the trees and signs bending, but they were bending away from us."

Storm rips through Jackson, Banks
Jackson County Emergency Services Director Steve Nichols said storms went through several municipalities in Jackson County, causing severe damage to homes and knocking out power.

"Three or four tornadoes touched down between Arcade and Commerce," Nichols said. "We’re just trying to get to these places and provide help for them."

He also said the city of Commerce was hit the hardest, and all available units were dispatched to help people trapped in homes and provide help for residents.

"We’re getting slammed right now," he said.

Nichols also said that to his knowledge, there weren’t any schools or businesses in the county evacuated because of the severe weather.

West Jackson Fire Chief Ben Stephens said the storm hadn’t caused any severe damage to the West Jackson area and confirmed that Commerce had seen the brunt of the storm’s force.

Power outages reported
Jackson EMC reported about 400 customers in the Oakwood area were briefly without power.

Georgia Power Co. reported 30 homes without power in the area.

Jackson EMC also reported that six substations in the Jackson and Banks county area were out, knocking out power to 15,500 customers.

This story will be updated as developments warrant.



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