Yards and vacant lots appeared to be strewn with very large matchsticks after an intense storm Wednesday night in South Hall County. The storm damaged 53 houses, from a few missing shingles to mostly destroyed, said David Kimbrell, Hall County Emergency Management Agency director.
Kimbrell said just before 4 p.m. Thursday that “we just got confirmation from the National Weather Service that it was straight-line winds.”
Of the damaged homes, “some were as minor as a few shingles blown off, nine received major damage and five are mostly destroyed,” Kimbrell said in his report to the county. “All the damage is from trees falling on the home. There is no evidence of tornado, only straight-line winds.”
About 3,500 customers were without power at the height of the storm, said Bonnie Jones, spokeswoman for Jackson EMC.
Crews were still working Thursday afternoon to restore power and remove trees from houses. Power was restored to the Camelot subdivision area, and all but about 70 customers in Hidden Harbor had power by 3:30 p.m.
The electric co-op had 12 contractor crews in addition to its regular Gainesville crews.
Residents in Timber Crest and Hearthstone subdivisions reported hearing high, “whistling” winds from about midnight to 12:30 a.m.
“About 12, it started raining; about 12:30, it started hailing; then lots and lots of flashing, like it was daylight,” said Catherine King, who lives on Byers Road. Her home was not damaged, but she said, “Trees were split in half in our yard.”
Dozens of trees were snapped and blown down, and 18 power poles were broken and had to be replaced, Jones said.
Four homes on Cobblestone were extensively damaged — including two that hit bedroom areas where people were sleeping. No injuries were reported.
Rebecca Shields, who lives on Cobblestone, said a tree hit their house “right above my parents’ bedroom.” The back deck of the house also was destroyed, she said.
Bill Carlson, the Shields’ neighbor, said, “I definitely heard some weird noises.” Trees were down all around his home, including ones that hit either end of his house. The valley between the Carlsons’ and Shields’ houses was a tangle of downed trees.
Carlson and his wife have lived in the house for 35 years. Nothing similar has ever happened, he said, “not even close to this.”
“You could hear the whistling. It was so strong I got up and walked around,” said Janet Ordway, who lives in Timber Crest subdivision.
Ken Grogan, retired from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said, “The hail’s what woke me up.” He lives in Hidden Harbor. Grogan has a generator, so he said his power outage “was about five seconds.”
One of the houses damaged, which was on Cobblestone, is owned by Tad and Tica Verret, who moved here from Homestead, Fla., about 2 ½ years ago.
Tad Verret said they both survived Hurricane Andrew. “It’s déjà vu all over again,” he said.
He said he was up, and “my ears popped.”
Tica Verret said she was sleeping.
“I heard this voice say, ‘Get out.’ As soon as I started out the (bedroom) door, I saw the branch in the roof,” she said.
The couple also had a tree fall on two trailers — his for motorcycles, hers for grooming dogs.
King said, “We actually heard the sound of it sucking things” when the storm hit. Her power came back on about 2 p.m.
She said a “75-foot tree (next door) was basically uprooted.”
In another house, a bedroom was heavily damaged by two trees, King said.
A trampoline was twisted and smashed in hedges near the intersection of Flat Creek and Stephens roads.
Roads with damaged structures were Raintree Circle, Raintree Trace, Flat Creek Road, Stephens Road, Hidden Harbor, Byers Road, Stone Trace, Cobblestone, Kings Court, Flatstone Drive and Point South Drive, Kimbrell said.
He added: “We were able to do a fly-over with Georgia State Patrol and confirmed the damage confined to that area, with everything blown straight over.”