Officials still weighing damage

AIKEN --- It could be days before emergency officials know how much damage a tornado did to Aiken County more than a week ago.


David Ruth, Aiken County's emergency management coordinator, said damage-assessment teams are still working on a final cost estimate from the March 15 storms and the county does not yet know if it will be eligible for any Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for cleanup.

It's unlikely that the county will be declared a federal disaster area, he said.

"I don't think there's been enough damage, enough dollars, to do that," Mr. Ruth said.

In Georgia, Jefferson and Burke counties are among those declared eligible for federal disaster aid.

Mr. Ruth said he hopes residents will qualify for individual assistance money from FEMA or for small business loans.

What is known, Mr. Ruth said, is that the tornado left behind a lot of debris that needs to be hauled away.

As of Monday, Mr. Ruth said, there was an estimated 17,000-plus cubic yards of storm debris "and counting."

Local officials are still counting up the damage costs, but insurance workers already have a good idea.

Allison Dean Love, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Insurance News Service, has polled insurance companies about claims filed after the storms.

More than 11,000 claims had been filed last week for damage to homes, cars and commercial buildings, costing more than $43 million across South Carolina.

She said she cannot break the claim information down by county.

"As of right now, it looks like the number of claims has more than tripled in the last week," she said.

Most were filed by the end of last week, she said, although some are still trickling in.

"People always need to be prepared and have the right insurance in place," she said.

A look at the number of tornadoes that have hit the area over the past few decades would give residents an incentive to keep their insurance up.

The Tornado Project, a Vermont-based group that tracks historical data on the phenomena by state and county, lists 16 confirmed tornadoes for Aiken County between 1961 and 1995.

None of them were over an F2 category, and although Aiken County outpaces its immediate surrounding counties -- Edgefield and Barnwell counties had five and nine respectively -- it hasn't been hit as many times as other places in South Carolina.

Orangeburg County, which borders Aiken, had 31 recorded tornadoes from 1953 to 1995, the last year the storm-watching Web site tracked.

Horry County, which is on the South Carolina coast, recorded 27.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or