Although most of the Augusta area saw flooding, broken trees and downed power lines Thursday, the worst of the storm hit neighborhoods near downtown Thomson. Weather officials said an F2 tornado packing 125 mph winds plowed a 10-mile path of destruction through the town Thursday evening.
No one was injured seriously, emergency officials said. But the destruction - concentrated in the Hickory Hill neighborhood - prompted state officials to declare McDuffie County a disaster area.
Damage reports were conflicting. McDuffie County Manager Don Norton reported that 19 homes were destroyed and dozens of other homes and roads damaged seriously. But an American Red Cross assessment said only seven homes were leveled and 40 to 50 homes total were affected.
In either case, the reach of the storm appeared extensive.
"When you look around out there, you really are amazed that there wasn't some kind of significant injury," Mr. Norton said.
Officials couldn't confirm how many residents had been displaced. But after the storm Thursday, 14 people sought shelter at First Baptist Church of Thomson. The Augusta Red Cross was expecting more displaced residents at the church Friday night.
The emergency relief agency also will open a service center today at the church from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Residents weary from the chaos of the storm spent much of the day sorting through the remains of their homes.
Ricardo and Debra Brown, who have lived on Mesena Road for 24 years, said they saw their home ripped apart in a matter of 15 seconds while they dodged flying glass before sheltering the family in a bathroom.
Mr. Brown said the storm's roar was similar to the sound of a train that had passed by moments earlier.
"There's no way there could be another one coming, not two trains right behind another," he said he was thinking as he yelled for his wife and daughter to seek shelter in the bathroom.
Bethany McIntosh also said the storm sounded like a train. Her sister Velmon Reese alerted her that it was more than just passing freight cars.
"I heard her screaming, 'It's a tornado, a tornado,'" Ms. McIntosh said. "So I just kind of laid down on the floor when she was saying it. The only thing I could really hear was like the wind blowing, but she said she heard something sounding like a train."
After the tornado passed, the ceiling caved in around Ms. Reese as she sat in the living room, and a tree in her front yard landed across her car. A tarp covered the entire roof of her home Friday.
At least one family of eight was displaced in Warren County, which also took a blow from the storm, said Tommy Wolfe, the county's emergency management director and fire chief.
Richmond, Columbia, Burke and Aiken counties also reported some damage and power outages.
About 19,200 Georgia Power customers in the Augusta area lost power because of the storm, said Lynn Wallace, a spokeswoman for the utility.
By Friday afternoon, most of the power had been restored, according to Ms. Wallace and other emergency officials.
Eight other Georgia counties hit hard by the storm before it tore through east Georgia and into South Carolina also were named disaster areas.
The Associated Press reported that nine people were killed in tornado-packing storms in south Georgia.
Gov. Sonny Perdue issued an executive order Friday declaring a state of emergency in Baker, Clay, McDuffie, Stewart, Sumter, Taylor, Columbus-Muscogee, Mitchell and Crawford counties.
He toured the damage by helicopter, and President Bush is expected to assess it today, according to The Associated Press.
The executive order allows for state resources to be available for response and recovery activities.
The Georgia Department of Labor said it would mobilize its resources to ensure that employees laid off because of damage to businesses have access to unemployment insurance and compensation.
Morris News Service reporter Lynn Davidson contributed to this article.
Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ACROSS THE STATE
DEATHS: Nine people in three Georgia counties were confirmed dead Friday:
- Six people, one of whom was a child, died in rural Baker County south of Albany when the two mobile homes they lived in were demolished.
- Two people were killed in Americus.
- A man in a mobile home was killed in Taylor County.
DAMAGE: The insured losses amounted to at least $35 million, much of it in Americus, Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said.
Sumter County's main hospital, Sumter Regional Hospital, suffered heavy damage, and patients were evacuated.
RESPONSE: Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in nine counties - Baker, Clay, Crawford, McDuffie, Mitchell, Muscogee, Stewart, Sumter and Taylor.
- Associated Press