Originally created 05/05/02

Storm cleanup gets under way



Charles Bellmann had a new roof over his head Saturday.

On Friday night, a sweet gum tree sliced into his Overton Road home - crashing through the back porch, roof and living room - nearly destroying the house but sparing the occupants.

"Only by the grace of God are we still alive," said Mr. Bellmann, who moved into an apartment with his wife, Marilynn, on Saturday.

"(We're) shaken but doing fine," he said.

That was the case for many residents in the Augusta area recovering from a Friday evening storm that pushed trees onto houses and cars, knocked down utility poles and slapped several communities with dime- to golf-ball-size hail.

The storm came in from the west, sweeping through Columbia County before unleashing havoc in Augusta - particularly in the neighborhoods surrounding Walton Way Extension and Washington, Bertram and Azalea roads, said Dave Dlugolenski, the director of the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.

"The average damage was downed trees, which caused the most property damage by falling on homes, fences and cars," he said. "The areas around Forest Hills, Lake Olmstead and Lake Forest Drive were hit the worst."

Just cleaning up debris from the roads will cost the city an estimated $100,000, Mr. Dlugolenski said.

Several city-owned buildings - Julian Smith Casino, Julian Smith Barbecue Pit and May Park Recreation Center - sustained structural damage from falling trees.

Robert Howard, assistant director for Augusta-Richmond County Recreation and Parks Department, said 22 trees had fallen between the casino and the barbecue pit. The pitwill be closed to events 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 after the storm hit, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lolita Browning. By noon Saturday, about 1,500 customers were still without electricity, and repairs were expected to stretch into the night.

Howard Sims, who lives on Kerry Place, said Saturday that he'd called Georgia Power three times.

"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.

Crews from tree services and construction companies were at work Saturday morning to start the cleanup and rebuilding.

"It's pretty extensive damage with (a lot) of punctured roofs," Brian Login with Bull Dog Tree Service said Saturday. "It's got me running crazy because you're not use to this type of volume.

"As soon as the storm hit, my phone hasn't stopped ringing."

COLUMBIA COUNTY escaped the storm's wrath relatively unscathed, said Pam Tucker, the director of the Columbia County Emergency Agency.

Only a few scattered power outages were reported and a few trees were knocked down by the high winds, which reached 40 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 Columbia County residents was any damage from hail.

"I don't think the repair shops have finished repairing all the hail damage from Easter Sunday," Ms. Tucker said.

AIKEN COUNTY power lines sustained considerable damage Friday night.

An estimated 8,000 Aiken County customers lost power Friday, and some still were waiting for it to be restored Saturday afternoon. Belvedere and the Midland Valley area were the hardest hit.

"Unfortunately, some customers had to go without power last night, but we worked through the night and through this morning and we've got everybody restored," said Cathy Love, a spokeswoman for South Carolina Electric and Gas.

MORE INFORMATION

  • Augusta residents are asked to move yard wasted and debris to the right of way by Friday for pickup. For more information, call the Augusta-Richmond Country Emergency Management Agency at 821-1155.
  • Anyone who encounters price gouging for cleanup or repair services should call the Augusta mayor's office at 821-1831. For insurance questions or complaints, call the office of Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine at (800) 656-2298.
  • Staff writers Rick Green and Carly Phillips contributed to this article.

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