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Governor tours storm's devastation throughout Georgia
At least 13 people killed statewide, though Northeast Ga. spared much damage
BC-GA--Georgia Weather-ref
A felled power pole and street light blocks the 1300 block of N. Chamberlain Avenue on Wednesday morning in Trenton as Eddie Dancy, left, surveys the storm damage to his neighborhood. - photo by Tim Barber

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Gov. Deal says advance preparation kept the effects of Wednesday's tornadoes from being worse.

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Gov. Deal describes his tour of areas devastated by tornado damage.

Gov. Nathan Deal is touring storm-ravaged areas in north Georgia and pledging state resources to help storm victims rebuild.

Deal early today flew over Trenton and Ringgold, two areas hard hit by the storms that swept across Georgia killing at least 13 people overnight.

The governor described the devastation to reporters, saying the storms cut an unusually wide swath across the state.

Dozens of tornadoes ripped through the South, flattening homes and businesses and killing at least 248 people in six states in the deadliest outbreak in nearly 40 years.

At least five tornadoes were reported in Georgia since the storms began Wednesday, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service.

Deal today declared a state of emergency in an additional 12 Georgia counties, bringing the number of counties under the declaration to 16.

Most of Northeast Georgia was spared serious damage, though tornado warnings were issued for Hall, Dawson, Lumpkin and Habersham counties.

David Wimpy, Lumpkin County's Emergency Management Agency director and fire chief, said officials there still are assessing damage. In one area on U.S. 129 near Edwards Parkway (just past Turner's Corner), there are trees down on several houses. No one was seriously injured.

"I'm up on 129 right now and I think this area is the hardest that got it, but we're still trying to cut trees and get down to some of the houses that are down off of these county roads," Wimpy said today.

The White County Sheriff's Office reported some minor damage, with some trees downed in the northern part of the county.

In the northwest Georgia town of Ringgold, a suspected tornado flattened about a dozen buildings, trapping an unknown number of people. At least seven people were killed in the county, according to state and local officials.

Deal planned to arrive first in Ringgold to tour the damage by helicopter and then meet with officials. Dawson County spokeswoman Cathy Brooks said several of the county's emergency services personnel have traveled to Ringgold to help.

"We have major devastation in the city of Ringgold," Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said. "The city will be closed for business today as we search through debris in hopes of finding other people that are missing."

The governor then will visit Mountain View Elementary School in Manchester in Meriwether County. Deal will cap off the tour at the swing with a visit to the state operations center in Atlanta.

Deal has declared a state of emergency in Bartow, Coweta, Greene, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Spalding, and Troup counties. He declared emergencies for Walker, Dade, Catoosa and Floyd counties Wednesday night.

"Right now, we're seeing fatalities, injuries and serious property damage in northwest Georgia," Deal said in a statement. "We encourage Georgians to take every precaution tonight, and we will keep those who have suffered greatly in our thoughts and prayers."

Two people were killed in Spalding County when a tree fell on a home, according to Maj. Wendell Beam of the Spalding County Sheriff's Department. Two people were killed in Dade County, and two others in Lamar County. Details on those deaths were not immediately available.

As daylight arrived Thursday, damage from the storms was evident at an interstate highway off-ramp leading to Ringgold. Trees had been ripped down, part of a bridge's railing was torn and a tractor-trailer had toppled onto its side, spilling its cargo. Fire and rescue vehicles could be seen along the overpass.

A resident, James Teems, said he was near the city center Wednesday night and saw a string of fast-food restaurants that had apparently been demolished by the storm. He said the scene was chaotic.

"Everyone was looking for everyone," Teems said.

Officials said about 30 people from Catoosa County were taken to area hospitals, and 150 people were staying at a shelter at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School.

Lisa Janak-Newman with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency described the situation Thursday morning as very active.

"We have a lot of trees down and a lot of roads closed," she said.

Authorities said a Ringgold motel was also damaged, prompting about 125 people to be evacuated. There were also reports of significant damage to a high school and a middle school in the Ringgold area, and Catoosa County schools were closed for the rest of the week.

Catoosa County Coroner Vanita Hullander said the destruction in Ringgold was extensive. Neighboring Whitfield County sent emergency responders and police to Catoosa County on the Tennessee state line.

"A lot of the town is destroyed and so is a large part of the county," Hullander said.

In Dade County in the state's northwest corner , Coroner Johnny Ray Gray said the south end of Trenton suffered heavy damage, including an apartment complex in the town about 125 miles northwest of Atlanta.

Georgia Power reported 54,000 customers without power statewide Thursday morning. That total included about 16,000 customers in Floyd County, where company spokesman Jeff Wilson said workers were being hampered by numerous downed trees.

Jackson EMC reported only scattered outages overnight, 12 overall in the Jefferson district, five in Gwinnett and one in the Gainesville district.

The Georgia Electric Membership Corporation said about 17,000 of their customers had lost power.

In Floyd County, officials reported more than 150 homes were damaged by the storms.

"The wind was blowing so hard it felt like my truck was going to blow over," motorist Dan Montgomery told the Rome News-Tribune. "People were panicking and turning and trying to get out of the way."

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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