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A little more information about the tornado and the aftermath:

The tornado was an “EF-3. ” The scale goes up to “EF-5,” and “EF-3” means that the winds were 136-165 mph. The storm was over a mile wide and 38 miles long, according to a city spokesperson. I don’t know if that means the actual path of destruction stretched 38 miles? It’s mind boggling. I didn’t think it could be accurate, so I surfed around this evening looking for this statistic, and found this entry from the National Weather Service bulletins out of Peachtree City, Georgia for Thursday night:

“TORNADO 5… TRACKED ACROSS WEBSTER…SUMTER…AND MACON COUNTIES…FROM CHAMBLISS TO ABOUT 17 MILES NORTHEAST OF AMERICUS. RATED EF3. LENGTH APPROXIMATELY 38 MILES AND MAXIMUM WIDTH OF ONE MILE. HEAVIEST DAMAGE WAS IN THE CITY OF AMERICUS NEAR THE HOSPITAL. AT LEAST TWO DEATHS WERE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS STORM IN AMERICUS. THREE INJURIES ALSO OCCURRED NORTHEAST OF CHAMBLISS. ”

Here’s a handy explanation of the “Enhanced Fujita” (EF) scale:

http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/ef-scale.html

I sincerely hope I never see what an “EF-5” can do.

The Red Cross estimates that more than 500 homes were damaged, and one report said the repairs are estimated at $65 million. I don’t know how they calculate that.

In church today, we learned which members have damaged homes and/or cars. Amazingly, no one was injured. Our deacon spent Thursday night (through the second wave of thunderstorms and rain) in his severely damaged home, alone with his cat. His car was flattened by a large tree, and the pastor said she had to climb over about 8 other huge trees to get to him on Friday. The road he lives on — a state highway on the way out of town to Andersonville — was so covered in downed trees and power poles that it’s closed to all but emergency crews and residents. They were hoping to get it reopened today.

After church, my friend Y. and I went to the store and then packed lunch sacks in her kitchen, with sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and water. Then S. and our kids (G. and K.) and she and her daughter and I all went back to the neighborhood G. & I were in yesterday to try and find folks who were unable to get out, and give them lunch. It wasn’t much, but we wanted to do something.

S. had not seen the damage in person, since he and K. stayed home yesterday. He was blown away. He and G. decided it was too intrusive to take photos today, but G. has asked to go back tomorrow, which we may possibly try to do. We don’t want to get in the way, but I understand his desire to capture what he’s seeing. K. told me on the way home that it was much worse than she was expecting.

We saw so much devastation I am not sure I can really do it justice in words. Cars overturned or smashed, windows broken, roofs damaged, large pieces of sheet metal crumpled up like a piece of paper and tossed around, signs bent over, massive trees with root-balls in the air, others snapped like twigs, garages or sheds flattened. But the good news is that there were power crews in that neighborhood today, and we saw teams of volunteers from at least two churches — people who just wanted to pitch in, who were out there with saws and tarps and tools, trying to clear trees and help people. G. also chatted with someone who had come from North Carolina. In a few houses, relatives were helping. In others, no one was home — I imagine some people are just too overwhelmed to even know where to begin. But at least help is starting to arrive.

One woman, near the “house with no walls” that I described yesterday, came to her door, took the lunch I offered, and said “God has blessed me so much, and He’s continuing to bless me now.” Wow. She had power lines in her yard, damage to her house, trees all over the place, broken glass leading up to her steps, and that was what she said.

Many of the residents we visited today face the same problem as our friends on the east side of town, who we did manage to reach in the afternoon yesterday. The electrical box where the lines come into their house detached or was otherwise damaged — which requires a certified electrician for repair and then inspection by the city before power can be restored. She was worried that they wouldn’t be able to find someone to do the repair work, because her husband had already called three electricians who hadn’t called back. An elderly couple who was sitting on the porch of their damaged house down the street from the hospital today told us the same thing — the power was due to be on in their street late today, but they would not be able to get power to their house because of the damaged box. It’s a potential fire hazard, so I understand the rule, but I wondered, having hired contractors here and there over the years, how people of limited means will be able to pay. I hope this is something FEMA can help with, since we were officially declared a disaster area today, and that means people will be able to apply for loans and other aid through their programs. We’ve all heard such horror stories about the red tape involved in this process. I hope the system works smoothly for those who need it.

S. made it through an area that was closed off yesterday. It’s where we stayed in a historic old inn when we were house hunting. All the trees are down, the gazebo is crushed, all the houses ringing the park sustained some amount of damage. There is an old brick school on the park, where K. used to take art classes, which recently underwent a major restoration; the whole back half of the building is now rubble. S. noted that you can now see clear across town in the north/south direction because so many trees are gone. They look as if a giant just came along and snapped them all off.

I realized today through emails and calls with friends and family that in some parts of the country, even with the presidential visit, the tornado was barely a blip in the news, or wasn’t reported at all. It really made me realize that I’ve had the same experience in the past — I hear a brief mention of a tornado or other natural disaster and I haven’t really understood the extent to which people’s lives are impacted. In fact, right now in many other communities across the South, people are dealing with their own tornado damage, injuries, and grief. The next day, or even later the same day, the news cycle moves on to something new. Meanwhile, people in the place where the damage took place are still devastated.

On the other hand, those places recover, eventually, and so will our town. Even though many people are overwhelmed, the community is expressing great resolve, and overall the response of officials and volunteers has been very impressive. The Red Cross has had to turn potential volunteers away because they have so many. The power crews from other places began arriving early Friday. The whole plan for temporary emergency medical care seems very organized, and today, a mobile hospital arrived from Ft. Benning; it will serve as the temporary community hospital until ours is rebuilt.

On a final note, I learned today that the “house with no walls” in my blog entry yesterday (and site of the president’s visit) was the duplex you may have read about in the news, where two people died. We felt utterly amazed today that no one else was killed here, based on what we saw. We have heard many stories of people who ran to another room just before a tree crashed through, or made it to a hallway, or went into a bathroom literally seconds before they would have been injured. A hospital official told the media he felt there was no explanation for the fact that all the patients and staff there were safely evacuated with no deaths or injuries during the tornado or after, other than “the hand of God.” Indeed.

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