WAYNESBORO, Ga. — Most of the debris from a tornado that swept through Southern Swiss Dairy on Monday evening was gone by Thursday, but the sight of emptiness still brought tears to Ginny Franks.
“My sister-in-law said it’s like a death in the family,” Franks said. “You have to come to grips with it and do what you have to do.”
The family is trying to move on, but it’s been hard with so many things to do and questions of what to do first.
Franks and her husband, Jimmy, have had their family-run dairy farm off Rosier Road outside Waynesboro for more than 20 years and expanded with a bottling plant in late 2008. They deliver their products to Augusta, Savannah, Statesboro, Athens
and Macon and are the sole milk provider for AtlantaFresh Greek yogurt.
The family was ending a normal day at the dairy Monday when news of severe weather came. When windows in their home began to pulse, Ginny and her daughter took refuge in the bathroom, “but we really didn’t think anything would happen,” she said.
Jimmy was on the way home, dodging trees in the road, when he drove up and noticed something missing.
“He said, ‘I think the free-stall barn is gone,’ ” his wife remembered him saying over the phone. “I’ll never forget that. I thought everything is gone.”
The barn had collapsed with 25 to 30 of their 140 or so cows trapped inside.
Stumbling in the dark, with no electricity, the family tried to find a way to save the cows. Ginny took a chance crawling into the wreckage as her husband lifted the rafters.
“It was a stupid thing for us to do for our safety, but they were our babies,” she said.
They worked until after midnight with the aid of neighbors, but they had to wait for daylight to see the amount of damage.
“Every devastation we saw was another heartbreak,” Ginny Franks said.
The tornado moved down a straight path, missing their home and dairy, but it took away the shed, fences and trees; damaged equipment; displaced all but eight of their 40 calf hutches; and knocked down irrigation systems.
Several of the cows that had been trapped were put down after sustaining broken legs and cuts. Others are left with injuries.
Ginny Franks said any stress on dairy cattle can affect production for up to a year.
“Production has already dropped a little, and we hope we can make that back up,” she said.
Neighbors pitched in to help remove debris and rebuild fences. Members of Screven County’s FFA, who were out of school because of power outages from the storm, came to help herd and feed.
Ginny Franks said the experience and the many helping hands has been humbling. Although the family will be recovering physically and emotionally for some time, she said, they’re trying to look on the bright side.
“We went home (Monday) night to our home and dry clothes,” she said. “I’m just blessed no one was hurt.”