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Hall recovers from the fury of tornadoes

First encounter with twister was too close for some residents

POSTED: September 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Sara Guevara/The Times

Half of the roof on this Hewell Road trailer was torn off after Tuesday's tornado ripped through Gillsville.

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Until two days ago, Jesus Ramirez and Jane Gable only had seen a tornado in the movies, but three very real ones touched down in Hall County Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service confirmed.

Tuesday’s tornado did not sound like the freight train tornado Ramirez had seen in the movies. Ramirez’ experience had been a little more rural.

"I heard the noise, like a million cows coming through, breaking limbs and everything," Ramirez said.

Hall County was hit by three EF1 tornadoes within four hours Tuesday afternoon. The county seemed to be the center of activity for Tuesday’s round of storms, although one EF1 tornado hit Jackson County twice, and an EF0 also touched down in Wilkes County, said Kent McMullen, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Gable did not need the official’s nod that there had in fact been a tornado near her Timberidge Road home at 4:20 p.m., she saw it coming through the field. Minutes later, trees had been torn from the ground and houses were without their roofs. One of those homes belongs to her daughter and son-in-law, Felicia and Fred Miller, who had a piece of their aluminum roof wrapped around a power pole as if the tornado had marked its territory in their yard.

The Millers spent most of the day Wednesday sorting through the debris in their yard, which was littered with pieces of their roof and a porch swing, and searching in the woods behind their home for the house belonging to their collie, T-Boat.

The dog’s house has been missing since an F1 tornado with 90 mph winds blazed a half-mile path, damaging three residences along Timberidge Road and two residences on Hewell Road.

The Millers were both at work at East Hall Middle School and Sardis Elementary when the tornado passed through, but T-Boat was at home, and his chain was in knots by the time the couple arrived to survey the damage.

"I don’t know if it picked him up or what," Felicia Miller said.

T-Boat’s missing home is the least of the Millers’ worries. The tornado ripped off the roof of their dining room and their bathroom, soaking their belongings and leaving them virtually homeless, their living arrangements now are at the mercy of family members’ kindness.

Since their home had wood heat, it was uninsurable, and the couple will have to find a way to pay for the damage caused by Tuesday’s tornado. They are still not sure whether they will have to completely replace their mobile home. Felicia Miller woke up crying Wednesday morning, she said.

"I still can’t believe it’s happened," Miller said. "It’s hard to believe that everything you’ve worked for can be gone in a second."

The Millers’ neighbors, who lived only yards away at 5215 Hewell Road, lost more of their home. Billy Matthews was at work, and his brother-in-law had been watching his two small children when the tornado ripped off most of the roof of their mobile home and twisted up their trampoline. No one was injured, but their home was destroyed.

Matthews and his wife and children will have to stay with his father, Dwayne Matthews, until the home can be replaced.

Matthews and his father spent most of Wednesday salvaging what they could from inside the rain-soaked house, moving beds, clothes and toys to Dwayne Matthews’ house. They are still not sure how much of the damage their insurance company will pay for.

"We haven’t found the roof yet," Dwayne Matthews said. "We don’t know where it’s at."

The tornado that hit in the Timberidge Road area near Gillsville was the last of four that hit the county Tuesday. Earlier in the day, another 90-mile-per-hour tornado tore a milelong path near Mount Vernon Road at 12:30 p.m.

Three hours after that tornado, two separate tornadoes with half-mile paths damaged Oakwood Elementary and Lyman Hall Elementary. The residential area around Lyman Hall received the brunt of the damage.

Lupita Barrera, 10, and her family had to spend the night in a hotel Tuesday. The tornado that struck near Lyman Hall left a tree in the living room of the Barrera home off Old Oakwood Road, while the family took shelter in the basement.

The same tornado uprooted trees and moved a mobile home in the Pinecrest Drive area.

Barrera and her sisters stayed home from school Wednesday to get their belongings out of their house, and by Wednesday afternoon, a tree removal service was working quickly to get the tree out of the family’s home.

"We thought the tree was going to break the house," Lupita Barrera said.

Like all the others who saw their first tornadoes touch down Tuesday, Barrera remembered that the storm was gone within seconds. Yet, it will take them much longer to recover from the damage it caused.

Until then, many of them will have to depend on the help of family members, friends and their faith.

"We’ll just take day by day. That’s all we can do," Felicia Miller said. "You know, put it in God’s hands, and we’ll go from there."



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