Tornado confirmed, shelter opening; Governor reviewing

A shelter is being opened at 5 p.m. today at Jackson Middle School on Atomic Road for victims of last night's storm that brought widespread damage and a least one confirmed tornado.

 

Aiken County sheriff's Capt. Charles Barranco said he wasn't sure how many people would be seeking shelter there from the Beech Island and Petticoat Junction areas. He said his office and other authorities were continuing to help residents with clearing trees and other debris.

Meanwhile, a National Weather Service assessment team reviewing last night's storm damage in Columbia County has confirmed an F-1 tornado touched down near Harlem, according to a statement released by Columbia County.

The tornado would be part of a large storm that swept the region and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is monitoring damage reports. However, a spokesman said this afternoon, he doesn't think it will require federal assistance.

Bert Brantley, Mr. Perdue's spokesman, said the first job is to get everyone safe and in temporary housing. An assessment phase could take two weeks, he said.

"At first glance, it doesn't appear the damges exceeded the threshold for federal assistence," he said.

"Of course, as the governor says, 'If it was your home or business that was destroyed, the devestation is total.'"

Damage from the storm that swept through the region late Friday and weather seemed particulary rough in South Carolina, where at least one man died.

Aiken County officials said they were going door to door in Beech Island and Petticoat Junction, checking on residents.

“We are still getting calls,” Aiken Sheriff's Capt. Charles Barranco told a noon news conference. He said residents in need of emergency care are asked to call 911; those needing information on electrical power or shelter should call 211.

Capt. Barranco said it's unclear how many homes were damaged or how many people were hurt. However, David Ruth, of Aiken County's Emergency Management Division, said at least 27 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment.

Meanwhile the Silver Bluff Fire Department is relying on the help of the Beech Island, New Ellenton and Jackson fire departments after its main facility was destroyed by the storm.

“The station's totaled. There's one wall standing,” said Silver Bluff Fire Chief Kerry Green.

The station lost three firetrucks inside and has only one left, which is operating out of a substation.

Capt. Barranco also said the First Citizen Bank in Beech Island lost its roof, and that there was heavy damage to New Beginnings Ministries on Highway 278.

Capt. Barranco said the public is asked to stay away from the area, however anyone wishing to help with cleanup efforts may call the American Red Cross at 803- 641- 4152.

State Rep. Roland Smith, of Aiken County, was also at the scene and pledged the state's help.

One Petticoat Junction resident, Darrell Miller, said he was in shock this morning as he walked through the wreckage of what had been his auto glass business and nearby mobile home.

“I can't believe it came through like this," he said.

He said when the storm hit he, his wife and three children were inside their mobile home when "it just started lifting up.”

The home was thrown on its side, he said, but they were able to escape.

He said he then took his family behind the business into a ditch and they stayed there until the storm blew over.

Looking at the rubble this morning, he said he didn't know how the family escaped alive.

Elsewhere, authorities identified a man killed last night in a storm related traffic accident.

James Adkinson, 63, of Beech Island, died on Chime Bell Church Road, according to Aiken Coroner Tim Carlton.

Mr. Adkinson was driving in bad weather with poor visibility, when he inadvertently drove into some trees that had fallen across the roadway, Mr. Carlton said.

In Augusta, Richmond County's Emergency Management unit has set up a processing center at the Bernie Ward Center on Lumpkin Road.

Two families were sheltered last night, said Jana Hill, public affairs director for the American Red Cross-Augusta Chapter. However, whether additional families have been displaced is still unknown.

“A lot of people are just now starting to check the extent of the damage to their homes. It may be a while before we know exactly how many others, if any, have been displaced,” she said.

Chief Howard Willis, director of the EMA, said that based on a fly-over done this morning, most of the damage seemed to be concentrated in the Barton Chapel, Cherry Hill and Bungalow areas and in some parts near the South Carolina border.

“I want to discourage anyone who doesn't need to be in those damaged areas to stay out of it,” he said.

Licensed inspectors from the city's license & inspection department and fire department inspectors are spending the day checking structures around the county, he said. So far, they have found 127 homes that have damage ranging from moderate to being completely destroyed.

Only minor injuries have been reported.

“We know there is wide spread damage and we are going to do our best to help people recover from this,” Chief Willis said. “If you have any information or have been affected by the storms, you need to let us know so that we can help you.”

The processing center will be open today until 5 p.m. and Sunday and Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you are unable to go to the processing center, you are asked to contact the United Way through the 2-1-1 system.

It appeared last night's storm cut a wide path through McDuffie, Columbia, Burke, Richmond and Aiken counties.

Kim Campbell with the National Weather Service in Columbia told The Associated Press that surveyors think the Aiken County damage was caused by a tornado.

Duke Energy reported that about 12,000 of its South Carolina customers were without power today. South Carolina Electric and Gas reported about 1,500 customers without power.

Columbia County also saw damage, although officials say no injuries have been reported.

The brunt of damage occurred about 10:30 p.m. at Browns, Intermediate and Louisville roads near Harlem and inside Grovetown city limits, where some mobile homes were damaged.

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