Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said he and his consumer-services staff will come to Augusta on Monday to provide help for those who suffered losses after a massive storm swept through the region late Friday and early Saturday.
Gov. Sonny Perdue is also reviewing damage reports, a spokesman said, but it's not likely the damage level will be enough for federal aid.
Powerful winds, at least two tornadoes and driving rain and hail pounded most of east central Georgia and western South Carolina late Friday and early Saturday, killing an Aiken County motorist and hospitalizing a Burke County man.
In Richmond County a nursing home had to be evacuated when its roof was ripped off. Its residents received shelter at area hospitals and other facilities.
The state insurance commissioner said more than 50 houses were damaged in the Barton Chapel Road area. At least 25 houses were damaged in Burke County, and McDuffie and Columbia counties also saw damage.
A National Weather Service assessment team reviewing storm damage in Columbia County confirmed an F-1 tornado touched down near Harlem.
In South Carolina, where another tornado is suspected, the damage was particularly destructive in the Beech Island and Petticoat Junction communities of Aiken County.
A shelter was opened at 5 p.m. Saturday at Jackson Middle School on Atomic Road. Aiken County sheriff's Capt. Charles Barranco said he wasn't sure how many people would be seeking aid, but his office and other authorities were continuing to help residents clear trees and other debris.
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 hospitals for treatment.
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 fire trucks inside and has only one left, which is operating out of a substation.
Capt. Barranco said the First Citizen Bank in Beech Island lost its roof, and there was heavy damage to New Beginnings Ministries on Highway 278.
State Rep. Roland Smith, of Aiken County, was also at the scene near Beech Island and pledged the state's help.
Elsewhere, authorities identified a man killed Friday 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 drove into some trees that had fallen across the roadway, Mr. Carlton said. A Friday night report that another person had been killed could not be confirmed Saturday.
Kim Campbell with the National Weather Service in Columbia told The Associated Press that some of the Aiken County damage was caused by a tornado.
Duke Energy reported that about 12,000 of its South Carolina customers were without power at some point Saturday. South Carolina Electric and Gas reported about 1,500 customers without power.
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 Friday night, said Jana Hill, the public affairs director for the American Red Cross-Augusta Chapter.
"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.
Fire Chief Howard Willis, the director of the EMA, said that based on a fly-over done Saturday, 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.
Chief Willis said he has asked the National Weather Service to assess the type and category of the storm.
As for the total cost or amount of damage, he said: "We don't have a good grip on that just yet, but we can tell it's going to be quite expensive." He said it may be today or Monday before they know the numbers.
Inspectors from the city's License and Inspection Department and Fire Department inspectors spent 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 widespread 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 and Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If unable to go to the processing center, he asked people to contact the United Way through the 211 system.
At least 75 residents of Amara HealthCare, a nursing home at 2021 Scott Road in south Augusta, remained at area hospitals Saturday night. The residents were evacuated late Friday after the roof of the facility was damaged. Denise Parrish, a spokeswoman for MCG Hospital and Clinics, said 25 residents of Amara were admitted. A few had minor injuries -- mostly cuts -- but all were in good condition, she said.
University and Doctors hospitals also are housing Amara residents. Barry Williams, the manager of the nursing home, would not comment on damage, residents' conditions or future accommodations.
Columbia County also saw damage, although officials say no injuries have been reported. Late Saturday, Pam Tucker, the emergency management director, said an EF1 tornado had been confirmed near Harlem late Friday as powerful winds swept through Columbia County.
She said in a statement that the storm first struck across from Harlem High School where a microburst on the leading edge of the storm with 95-mph winds caused extensive damage along Browns Road. Damage was estimated at $65,000 she said.
The tornado with estimated 105 mph winds then touched down not far away, knocking down trees and power lines before swirling through Grovetown.
The storm caused damage on James Street, Cannock Street, Old Berzelia Road, School Street, Ford Street, Barbara Street and Woodward Place. The damage there was estimated at $70,000, and the total damages were an estimated $295,000.
McDuffie County Emergency Management Director Bruce Tanner said officials there didn't know whether a tornado had caused the damages.
"We sure know something about if it was or it wasn't from the National Weather Service on Monday," said Mr. Tanner. "I think we were very lucky. It could have been much worse."
In Burke County, damage was widespread, according to state Rep. Gloria Frazier. She said a man was hospitalized in critical condition, but she did not know his name. Ms. Parrish, at MCG Hospital and Clinics, said a Burke County patient was listed in fair condition Saturday night.
Burke County Emergency Management director Chief Rusty Sanders spent much of the day assessing damage. Late Saturday, the National Weather service confirmed that an EF3 tornado hit in Burke County. A&A Grocery Store near Georgia Highway 56 was demolished by the storm, officials said.
The front windows of William Mizell Ford dealership were blown out after the storm, said Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey.
Several homes on Cohen Road were destroyed and a mobile home on Highway 56 was flipped upside down.
Staff Writers Nikasha Dicks, Jenna Martin, Stephanie Toone, Elizabeth Adams and Walter Jones and Billy W. Hobbs of Morris News Service contributed to this report.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said residents could contact his office at (800) 656-2298 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, or online at www.gainsurance.org. He recommended trying the 24-hour claims number on your insurance policy, or calling your agent.
He also suggested:
- Putting a tarp over any openings.
- Keeping receipts for reimbursement from insurance.
- Not moving anything until you've documented the damage with photos.
"If anyone is out of town reading this story on the Internet, they need to call a friend or neighbor to make sure the house is OK," he said.
If a neighbor's tree falls on your house, your homeowner's policy will pay for it, Mr. Oxendine said.
YOU CAN HELP
The American Red Cross of Augusta is accepting donations:
American Red Cross
1322 Ellis St.
Augusta, GA 30901
Or, donate via the Web site at www.arcaug.org.
In Aiken, anyone wishing to help with cleanup efforts can call the American Red Cross at (803) 641-4152.
TOTAL OF FOUR TORNADOES REPORTED ACROSS GEORGIA
PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. --- The National Weather Service says it has confirmed four tornadoes from the severe storms that swept across Georgia on Good Friday.
The confirmed tornadoes included EF1s in Crisp, Pickens and Chattahoochee counties and also an ef0 in Chattahoochee. The Weather Service said it still had teams checking on possible tornadoes in Chatooga, Dooley, Gordon, Hancock and Wilcox counties.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency also had reports of homes destroyed or damaged in Putnam, Terrell, Crisp, Wilcox and Hancock counties. GEMA said there were some injuries, but no deaths reported.
In South Carolina, at least 10 counties reported damage from the storms, including Aiken and three nearby counties --- Abbeville, Anderson and Greenwood.