Storm takes out trees, power

Winds up to 100 mph ripped walls of Waynesboro buildings

One of Augusta's Masters visitors got a rude awakening at 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Gunner Garrity was sleeping in the front bedroom of his rental house on North Eisenhower Court when an enormous elm tree came crashing down about five feet from his bed.

"It sounded like one of those big coolers loaded with beer bottles in ice, and it just lands on solid concrete," said Garrity, a camera operator from Orlando.

The early morning storm raced across the region, knocking out power to thousands, downing trees, including one along Augusta National Golf Club's famed Magnolia Lane, and generating winds up to 100 mph that stripped the outer walls off two manufacturing plants in Waynesboro.

"It blew the whole front off both of them," said Waynesboro Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Parrish.

Parrish said officials with the National Weather Service checked damage in the city Tuesday morning and said the storm failed to produce a tornado. However, they estimated that straight-line wind speeds reached between 90 mph and 100 mph.

"(The wind) just peeled if off," Parrish said of walls at the Alstom Grid plant on the north end of the city.

At the Legion Industries plant in the same part of town, a brick facade was blown away and the roof caved in, Parrish said.

"With both plants we had natural gas leaks, so we had to get the gas shut off," he said.

Though numerous trees fell, Parrish said no one was injured and some homes sustained only slight roof damage.

Garrity said an AT&T worker told him the way the tree was rooted, it could have easily fallen into the house instead of away from it. Luckily, it didn't, and a neighbor's truck wasn't damaged, even though Garrity said the tree had loomed perilously across the top of it.

Crews came by in the afternoon to restore power, Internet and cable to the house, but the elm remained sprawled across the front yards of two homes, nearly blocking them from view.

The storm briefly kept patrons from entering the Augusta National grounds Tuesday for the second day of practice rounds. One of the trees that lined the famed Magnolia Lane entrance was reportedly downed.

The Lake Olmstead area endured the brunt of the storm, said Sharon Bennett, an administrative assistant with Augusta's emergency management department.

"It kind of started at Powell Road and came across to the Lake Olmstead area," Bennett said. "It was heavy winds and rain damage with a lot of trees, particularly diseased trees, that fell."

Crews worked through the night to clear debris and remove downed trees, Bennett said.

About 5,800 customers in Richmond County and 3,500 customers in Columbia County remained without power as of 8 p.m., according to Georgia Power Co. spokesman Jim Barber.

Across the state, 68,000 Georgia Power customers were still without power. Barber said 14,000 customers in the east region were without power, which was down from a peak of 40,000 in the region that includes Augusta, Evans, Thomson and Waynesboro. Barber added that the Augusta area had more than 25 broken poles and 50 "spans of wire" down.

McDuffie County fared well, said County Fire Rescue and Emergency Management Chief Bruce Tanner. Barber said 2,100 customers in the county remained without power.

"There were some trees down and stuff like that, but it wasn't anything major," Tanner said.

No one was injured, he said.

Road crews in Columbia County were concentrating their efforts Tuesday morning in the Evans and Martinez areas, said Construction and Maintenance Services Director Matt Schlachter.

However, Schlachter said the storm damage was everywhere.

"It's kind of widespread," he said. "There's no confined area. It's kind of all over the county."

Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker said at least 32 roads in the county were littered with downed trees and tree limbs, and power lines had fallen on at least 16 roads.

An uprooted tree on Oakley Pirkle Road ruptured a gas line, she said. A fire truck responding to a call while it was still dark got stuck after running over a tree the driver failed to see.

Downed power lines and a shortage of manpower to repair them were impeding the county's road crews, so Schlachter said he was unable to give an estimate on when the roads will be cleared.

Even so, Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said in an e-mail that no one was injured, and most roads had been cleared.

Anyone seeing a downed tree in the road should call 311 to report it, Schlachter said. However, calls concerning downed power lines should be made to 911.

Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright said the company's crews had been working since early Tuesday morning.

While Georgia Power crews were removing trees and restoring power lines near Joe Ma's Stevens Way home in Martinez, he was working with a hand saw removing parts of the large pine tree in his yard that fell onto his home.

The tree fell between 2:30 and 3 a.m., and Ma said it sounded like a bomb exploding.

"My wife was so scared, she wouldn't go back to the bedroom," Ma said.

The fallen trees nearby also caused power to go out in his Stevens Points subdivision home.

Staff Writer Luke Thompson contributed to this article.