Originally created 02/24/03

Storm damage awaits assessment



A gigantic satellite dish and a camping trailer are still missing, but Wesley Counsell found a hand-knitted afghan hanging from a tree Sunday.

A few dozen people spent the day roaming Talmadge Wheatley's farm off Clanton Road in Evans, trying to recover valuables and other items scattered by a tornado Saturday morning. Friends and relatives piled up the fallen tree limbs and the remains of Mr. Wheatley's two barns, beginning a lengthy cleanup.

They normally rest on Sunday. Not this time.

"I cleaned up a lot of the mess, but I still got a lot to go," Mr. Wheatley said. "It was my first dealing with a tornado, and I hope it's the last."

At least 30 families in Evans were affected by the violent storm, which was punctuated by a tornado of F2 strength The twister was 75 yards wide and made a path a mile long, Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker said.

"Fortunately, no one was hurt or displaced," she said.

Ms. Tucker said everyone she talked to had insurance to cover the losses.

In addition to the hard-hit Wheatley farm, Ms. Tucker counted 20 damaged homes on Windmill Parkway and four on Windmill Lane.

"But I feel like it will be more," she said.

Ms. Tucker's staff plans door-to-door assessments today. She is asking Columbia County residents who had damage to call her office at (706) 868-3303 with descriptions of the damage and estimates.

"We need to know what this tornado did in damages for future planning as well as reports to the state office," Mrs. Tucker said.

Mr. Wheatley expects a visit from his insurance adjuster today. Meanwhile, his family brought bulldozers and pickup trucks to the farm Sunday.

"Country folks pull together," he said. "They are my brothers and daughters and son-in-laws and cousins."

The tornado that first touched down in his field danced around his brick home, causing only minor damage. His 15 horses were uninjured.

The storm leveled his two barns, snapped trees in half and shredded a trailer he was using for storage in his back yard. The solid-steel section of the trailer was left wrapped around a tree like a wet noodle.

The contents of the blown-away structures were scattered in the woods, dangling from trees or missing. Some of his belongings were found a mile away in Windmill Plantation.

"I tell you what: It makes you appreciate the storm," said family friend John Robelen. "The sad thing is, there is nothing you can do to prevent this kind of thing.

TORNADO SCALE

Meteorologists analyze wind damage and use the Fujita scale to classify tornadoes by the estimated strength. All tornadoes are assigned a single number based on the most intensive damage caused by the storm:

F0 (WEAK): 40-72 mph, light damage

F1 (WEAK): 73-112 mph, moderate

F2 (STRONG): 113-157 mph, considerable

F3 (STRONG): 158-206 mph, severe

F4 (VIOLENT): 207-260 mph, devastating

F5 (VIOLENT): 261-318 mph, incredible

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.