TELFAIR, Ga. --- During the three decades the A&A Minit Mart provided gasoline and snacks from an isolated corner at Hancock Landing Road and Georgia Highway 23, owner Ricky Smith made friends with many of his Burke County neighbors.
When a tornado leveled his store last weekend, those neighbors turned out in force to help clean up and rebuild.
"We couldn't have done as much as we've done without them," Mr. Smith said Friday as heavy equipment brought in by local farmers and contractors removed debris. "They have been wonderful."
The tornado destroyed the store, scattering candy, beer, chips and other groceries for almost a mile.
"The only thing left standing was the drink cooler," said neighbor Frank Lackman, who put on work gloves Friday to help with the cleanup. "They found part of the metal awning from the gas pumps almost three miles away."
Mr. Smith said his store, which opened in 1979, was obliterated, along with four mobile homes nearby. Trash dumpsters were hurled into trees.
"We're lucky no one died," he said. "If the store had been open at the time, it would have been awful."
Friends and neighbors started helping out soon after the storm had passed.
"I got one neighbor who picked up a whole truckload of stuff -- beer, chips, everything -- and it was all over his front yard," Mr. Smith said.
Other helpers Friday included Johnny Lovett, who brought in heavy hauling trucks from his transport company, LL Bulk. Farmer Randy Chandler was on the scene with a track hoe and another neighbor -- Harold Ray -- brought in a bulldozer.
The disaster scene was nearly cleared by Friday afternoon. Mr. Smith, leaning on a pair of twisted steel beams left standing when the twister sheared off his gas and diesel pumps, said he hoped to begin rebuilding, possibly as early as next week.
In the interim, he said, his nine employees are out of jobs, and it could take three months or more to rebuild, even under the best of conditions.
"We got insurance, but you know how that goes. It never does everything," he said. "But when we're all done, we're hoping to make it bigger and better."
Elsewhere in Burke County, Bryan Hortenstine spent Friday afternoon collecting the scattered belongings of neighbor Todd Glassburn on Thomas Road.
Mr. Glassburn was hospitalized at Medical College of Georgia Hospital after his mobile home was picked up by the tornado and thrown against a tree.
Mr. Hortenstine, who had lost the roof to his home but suffered no injuries, said after the storm he heard Mr. Glassburn calling from a field where he was lying in a pile of rubble.
"It picked up the house, with him inside, and blew him that far," Mr. Hortenstine said.
Staff Writer Adam Folk contributed to this report .
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 863-6165, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch aerial footage of the damage that occurred in the area.
The American Red Cross' Augusta chapter is still looking for volunteers for storm cleanup today in Richmond County.
Anyone wanting to help is asked to show up at the Red Cross' Augusta office at 1322 Ellis St. between 8 and 9 a.m. Volunteers are asked to wear work clothes and bring safety gear, tools and work gloves.
For those unable to help clean up, the agency's Augusta and Aiken chapters also are in need of monetary donations.
In Aiken, donations can be made at 1314 Pine Log Road, by calling (803) 641-4152 or online at www.aikencountyredcross. org.
The Augusta chapter can be reached at its office or by calling (706) 724-8481.