Originally created 05/04/02

Area recovers from storm



Deborah Watkins needed to call her insurance agent, but the tree that partially covered her roof knocked out the telephone lines and power the night before.

"It's been very stressful trying to get anything done without a telephone," Ms. Watkins said Saturday.

She was not alone.

Hundreds of residents in the Augusta area were without power or use of a telephone Saturday while trying to recover from Friday's storm.

The high winds kicked up showers of debris, affecting neighborhoods along Walton Way Extension and Washington, Bertram and Azalea roads.

"The average damage was downed trees, which caused the most property damage by falling on homes, fences and cars," said Dave Dlugolenski, the director of the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.

"The areas around Forest Hills, Lake Olmstead and Lake Forest Drive were hit the worst," he said.

Mr. Dlugolenski said city-owned buildings - Julian Smith Casino, Julian Smith Barbecue Pit and May Park Recreation Center - sustained structural damage caused by fallen trees.

Robert Howard, assistant director for the Augusta-Richmond County Recreation and Parks Department, said 22 trees had fallen between the casino and the barbecue pit. The barbecue pit - which had the most damage - will be closed until the building is evaluated by a construction engineer, he said.

In addition to structural damage, 6,800 people in Richmond County were left without power when the storm hit Friday, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lolita Browning. By noon Saturday, about 1,500 customers were still without electricity, she said.

Howard Sims, who lives on Kerry Place, said he'd called Georgia Power three times about his power.

"If I knew when it was coming back on I wouldn't have anything to worry about, but if I don't know then we need to make arrangements concerning frozen food and other things that need electricity," he said.

COLUMBIA COUNTY mostly dodged the bullet when the storms swept through Friday afternoon.

Ms. Browning said there were about a dozen power outages scattered throughout the county.

Pam Tucker, the director of the Columbia County Emergency Agency, said most of the power outages, which occurred about 5:30 p.m., had been restored by 8:30 p.m. and all had been restored by 10:30 p.m.

Ms. Tucker said there were reports of scattered trees downed by the high wind. Winds were blowing about 40 mph, with gusts to about 50 mph, she said.

"I think we were real lucky considering the severity of those storms," Ms. Tucker said. "We could have had some severe structural damage, (but) we didn't get any of that."

The major concern for residents in Columbia County was any damage from hail. Dime-sized hail fell in Evans, but hail was much larger in Richmond and Aiken counties.

"I don't think the repair shops have finished repairing all the hail damage from Easter Sunday," when another storm struck Columbia County, Ms. Tucker said.

IN AIKEN, the last of South Carolina Electric and Gas customers without power heard the surge flow back into their homes at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The main cause of the outages were high winds and lighting, authorities said.

"We were extremely lucky," said David Ruth, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Aiken County Emergency Services. "There was very light damage primarily in the North Augusta area, which had a few trees down. It wasn't significant."

Cleanup was underway Saturday, Mr. Ruth said.

"There wasn't any roads blocked one way or the other, so I don't think we had any problems."

However, Mr. Ruth said, the Barnwell area had more damage.

"In fact, they think they had a tornado touch down," he said.

Jeff Linton, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Columbia, said the service had sent someone to Barnwell to investigate reports of a tornado.

"He saw no evidence of a tornado, but he did talk to someone who saw a funnel cloud," Mr. Linton said. "There were lots of leaves stripped off of trees because of hail, which was of the golf-ball size. And there were a couple large limbs down."

Staff Writers Carly Phillips and Rick Green contributed to this article.

Albert Ross at (706) 823-3339 or albert.ross@augustachronicle.com.