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Weather service says 3 twisters struck Hall, causing $3.36 million in damage

POSTED: September 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Kevin Finney, a city of Gainesville employee, looks over the damage to a house Thursday on West Avenue. The house and a car were covered when a large tree fell during the storm on Tuesday.

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It has been three days since a fallen pine tree forced Ellen Cowart out of her home less than a mile from downtown Gainesville.

Cowart’s property is one of nearly 107 properties that were either affected or damaged by tornadoes Tuesday in Hall County. Most of the damage was in an area between Lyman Hall Elementary and Cowart’s home, according to an estimate from Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle.

Though the National Weather Service initially had reported on Wednesday that four tornadoes touched down in Hall County, they revised that estimate late Wednesday night. Three tornadoes touched down, according to the National Weather Service; two of the damage paths later were determined to be from the same tornado.

All three tornadoes were estimated at EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, a system for estimating wind speed based on damage. The National Weather Service said winds in all three tornadoes were estimated at 90 mph.

According to reports from the National Weather Service, the three tornadoes were:

No. 1 touched down at 12:25 p.m. near Mount Vernon Road.

No. 2 touched down at 3:38 p.m. about one mile southwest of Oakwood. The same tornado lifted and touched down a second time at 3:45 p.m. between Oakwood and Gainesville.

No. 3 touched down at 4:20 p.m. in Gillsville.

A fourth tornado touched down 10 minutes later in Commerce in Jackson County, according to the weather service. Two other tornadoes were recorded Tuesday in the state, one each in Monroe and Wilkes counties.

In the aftermath of those three tornadoes, a large pine tree is still draped across Cowart’s 1975 Cutlass Salon International and rests on the roof of her West Avenue home. Since Tuesday’s tornadoes hit Hall County, Cowart has spent her days getting estimates from various tree removal companies, estimates that range from $1,000 to $2,200 and are only a piece of the estimated $3.36 million of total damages across the county.

Although she was lucky that her home was not damaged as much as her neighbors’ at 815 West Ave., a tornado was not an event Cowart had planned for financially.

The fire marshal’s office said that 91 residences were damaged when three EF1 tornadoes touched down Tuesday in different areas of the county. Of those residences, four homes were destroyed, according to the county’s post-storm damage report. Three of those destroyed homes were mobile homes.

Three schools were also damaged in Tuesday’s storms, but all were able to open Wednesday, Cagle said. Two of those schools, Lyman Hall and Oakwood elementary schools, received major damage, Cagle said.

Tuesday’s tornadoes damaged four first-grade classrooms at Oakwood Elementary and pulled the majority of the roof off the gym at Lyman Hall Elementary. Numerous trees fell around Gainesville State College and damaged one of the school’s pavilions, Cagle said.

Hall County’s businesses were not spared from the tornadoes, either. Farmer’s Furniture was one of 13 businesses affected by the storms, and the store lost $162,000 in furniture inventory alone when winds pulled the roof off the Browns Bridge Road business, said store manager Rodger McElrea.

Already, the business has spent $20,000 for water removal, and will have to recarpet the floor, along with replacing ceiling tiles, drywall and the building’s roof, McElrea said.

The business has been able to squeeze something positive out of its water-logged inventory — McElrea said the store will sell some of its inventory that only received minor damage at a "big" discount.

But Cowart is not as lucky. There is no sale for her. Like many affected residents, she will spend the next few days negotiating with her insurance company, or for those without insurance, looking for a deep pocket to pay for the damages.

Cowart said she has yet to see anyone from her insurance company, which called the damage to her home "catastrophic," Cowart’s boyfriend, Don Bowen said.

The 61-year-old Cowart has been promised that an insurance adjuster will show up this morning to assess the damage, but said all the waiting has made her feel that she has aged about 20 years.

"Three days. I can’t get nobody out here, so here I am," she said.



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