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Service remembering 1998 tornado that killed 13 set for March 17 in Clermont
03112018 TORNADO
A Clermont monument honors the 13 people killed in a March 1998 tornado in North Hall. “This community will never forget you, because to live in our hearts is to truly never die.”

Former Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle will remember a day he’d rather forget during a community service set for Saturday, March 17.

“In my 22-plus years with Hall County, this was the toughest call of my career,” he said last week of the March 20, 1998, tornado that killed 13 people as it tore through North Hall.

Cagle, a firefighter at the time, described the scenes where the tornado touched down as “war zones.”

“People were walking around, stunned, dazed and looking for survivors,” he said.

Cagle, now the director of planning and preparedness at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, will be one of several speakers at a tornado victims memorial service taking place at Clermont Chattahoochee Center at 639 Main St. in Clermont. 

The service had been set to take place at Clay E. Gailey Park off Dean Street but was moved because of concerns about the chance for rain. The National Weather Service is calling for a 60 percent chance of showers and possibly a thunderstorm on Saturday.

Tornado victims memorial service

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, March 17

Where: Clermont Chattahoochee Center, 639 Main St., Clermont

Town Councilman Seth Weaver helped organize the event, a tribute to the people who died during the early morning tragedy.

“We need to remember those people,” Weaver said. “When something like this happens, it brings a community together like nothing you’ve ever seen … but then they tend to drift back away.”

The memorial program says, “Those we love don't go away. They walk beside us every day. Unseen, Unheard, but always near. Still loved, still missed, and very dear.”

Victims’ names are etched in a Clermont monument.

“This community will never forget you, because to live in our hearts is to truly never die.”

In addition to lives lost, the tornado caused $13.5 million in damage in Hall and White counties.

With winds whipping up to 206 mph, it pummeled Lanier Elementary School off Thompson Bridge Road in North Hall before hitting North Hall High School off Mount Vernon Road.

Scheduled to speak at the service are Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch and former Sheriff Steve Cronic. Friends and family members of the victims also have been invited and will be given the chance to speak.

Brian Funderburke, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, is scheduled to give the closing prayer. Cagle, also the chaplain for the Emergency Management Association of Georgia, will give the opening prayer.

“It wasn’t until days (after the tornado) that I was able to drive around and help people in the community,” he said, describing the storm’s devastation and personal toll. “Doing so began the process of healing my heart and mind. It is always awesome to see the community come together and help one another.

“My question is, ‘Why does it take a tragedy for us to come together?’”

Coming Sunday

The Times gives 20th anniversary coverage of the March 1998 tornado.

Regional events