ATLANTA (BP)–Georgia Baptist disaster relief crews are on site in three locations hit by a string of tornados that rolled across the state March 14 and 15.
Downtown Atlanta was hardest hit on Friday night with nearly $150 million in damages while outlying areas received varying degrees of damage. The tornado, with winds reaching 135 miles an hour, hit the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena as Southeastern Conference and Atlanta Hawks games, respectively, were underway. The Georgia World Congress Center received major damage. It was the first tornado to strike downtown since record keeping began in the 1800s, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Many streets near Centennial Park and the CNN Center remained closed to traffic on Monday. Streets were littered with glass from hundreds of windows that were blown out of the city’s skyscrapers. The Omni Hotel reported that more than 460 rooms in its south tower will be closed two weeks for repairs.
A second major storm passed through the downtown area again on Saturday, further escalating the damage and hindering cleanup efforts.
Two fatalities were recorded following the weekend storms, both in rural parts of the state.
As bad as the Atlanta tornado was, damage could have been far greater if the second storm, which touched down Saturday in rural Polk, Floyd and Bartow counties, had hit downtown. That tornado was nearly five times wider and stayed on the ground almost three times as long, the Journal-Constitution reported.
Stuart Lang, who coordinates disaster relief ministry for the Georgia Baptist Convention, said units are serving in the downtown community of Cabbagetown, in Aragon an hour north of the city near Cartersville, and in Wrens about 30 minutes west of Augusta.
A cleanup and recovery unit from Noonday Baptist Association near Marietta is removing rubble and downed trees in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood which received heavy damage. Lang said chaplains also were being mobilized and were expected to be on site late Monday or on Tuesday. About 10 volunteer disaster relief workers are on site.
“We could easily be on location in Cabbagetown for the majority of this week as we respond to needs,” Lang said.
A second cleanup and recovery unit of a half-dozen volunteers from the Dalton area in northwest Georgia is serving in Polk County where 36 homes were damaged and where one of the area’s two fatalities was recorded.
In Wrens, two units have been dispatched to provide ministry services in the rural community. A feeding unit from Thomson and a cleanup and recovery unit from Wrens are operating out of Wrens Baptist Church.
Gayle Swan, secretary at the church, said none of the congregation’s 600 members received serious damage to their homes. However, the Red Cross did designate the church as a shelter and the congregation housed three families on Saturday night.
Swan said the tornado was one of about 14 storms of varying intensities that raked the area and left a path of destruction across the neighboring state line into South Carolina. The Journal-Constitution reported that the Wren tornado, which touched down at 6:25 p.m. on Saturday, was a quarter-mile wide and left a 19-mile path of destruction.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the web at www.christianindex.org.