Originally created 05/21/05

Windstorm hits area



Two fierce thunderstorm bands swept through the Augusta area Friday.

But while Aiken and Richmond counties got high winds, lightning and rain, Columbia County caught the brunt of the storms' wrath.

Thousands were left without power, and the winds damaged some Evans homes and docks at Tradewinds Marina.

In Evans, the high winds from the storm, which hit at about 1:30 p.m., also tore off some metal siding from the Evans Diner, shattered a sign in front of the Jiffy Lube on Washington Road and yanked an awning off Arby's and tossed it onto a parked vehicle.

"It's going to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services division director, said about damage from the storm, adding that it was so widespread it will be difficult to tell exactly how much damage occurred to homes and other structures.

Mrs. Tucker said it will most likely be Monday before the National Weather Service will be able to determine whether the high winds were the result of a tornado or downburst.

No injuries were reported as a result of the storm, "which is miraculous to me," Mrs. Tucker said.

A Georgia Power official said that at the peak of the storm, Georgia Power received 300,000 reports of power outages from the Augusta area. The company has 140,000 customers in the area, and many of the reports were repeat outages. It expected to have all outages restored by Friday evening.

The storm caused damage throughout Columbia County, but most of it was focused on the Evans area, particularly Country Place subdivision, where initial reports showed that 50 to 60 trees were uprooted or sheared off.

"You've got significant damage," Mrs. Tucker said.

She said her office visited Country Place and took photos to send to the National Weather Service for analysis.

"They have not discounted that a small tornado came through the area, but again, downburst winds can cause damage just as bad as a tornado," she stated in an e-mail. " ... They will review the radar from 1:30 p.m. in the Evans area, and along with the documentation from the photos, they should be able to give us an official determination on Monday."

The most damage in Country Place subdivision seemed to be on Graystone Place, where winds knocked down trees around many homes and dropped one tree on a house in the 500 block, knocking a large hole in the roof and the side of the home. No one was home at the time of the storm, because the owners are in the process of selling, said Cameron Waggoner, whose father owns the house.

Many of the subdivision's residents reported seeing a concentrated area of high winds and speculated that a tornado had come through the area.

"It was like a freight train," said Gage Reynolds, 13, a resident of Country Place. "It looked like a big gust of wind. The trees were bending over."

Gage's grandfather, Richard Reynolds, who was away from the subdivision during the storm, came back to survey the damage.

"My wife called me and said they heard a noise like a freight train and hid in the house under the stairs," Mr. Reynolds said.

Ed Saggus, of Country Place, said a fallen branch knocked a hole in his roof.

Things could have been worse, he said. "We're lucky."

The county's emergency services department also reported a rooftop being partially blown off of a townhome on Faircloth Court in Evans. A tree also reportedly fell across the railroad tracks on Evans to Locks Road near the county's Water Works office.

The storm also took its toll on Tradewinds Marina at Thurmond Lake in Columbia County.

"We either had a tornado come through or a microburst that damaged four of the docks pretty badly," said Mike Stutts, the manager of Tradewinds. "It just moved (the docks) across the marina about 75 to 100 yards and jacked them up against the other docks and tore the walkways loose."

Mr. Stutts said only minor scratches were reported to some boats, but the storm took the roof off one summer cabin. He said his office would continue to survey the damage today.

Staff Writer Jeremy Craig contributed to this article.

Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

NUMBERS TO CALL

POWER OUTAGES

- Aiken Electric Cooperative Inc., (877) 264-5368

- South Carolina Electric and Gas Co., (888) 333-4465

- Jefferson Energy Cooperative, (706) 547-2167

- Georgia Power Co., (888) 891-0938.

FALLEN TREES AND LIMBS

- In Richmond County, call 911 if the tree is on a city road or public property.

- In Columbia County, call the Columbia County Sheriff's Office dispatch at 541-2800.

- In Aiken County, call the Aiken County Sheriff's Office at (800) 922-9709. For weather-related emergencies in the city of Aiken, call Aiken Public Safety at (803) 642-7620.

- In Edgefield County, call the Edgefield County Sheriff's Office at (803) 637-5337.

CABLE OUTAGES

- Comcast, (800) COMCAST (266-2278)

- Knology, (706) 364-1000

- Charter, (888) GET-CHARTER (438-2427)

- G-Force, (803) 648-8361