Damages mount following Friday storm

Damages from a storm deemed one of the worst in a decade for this area are still being assessed.

So far, a National Weather Service official who toured the area hit by tornados - including Columbia, Richmond and Aiken counties - estimated more than 100 homes sustained damage, adding he wouldn’t be surprised if the cost for all counties affected reaches $1 million.

In Aiken County,Suzanne Jackson, with the county's American Red Cross chapter, said she had no cost estimate of damage yet, but she knew of six destroyed homes, 25 with major damage and 19 with minor damage. She also knew of 11 Beech Island residents who were taken to Aiken Regional Medical Centers with injuries.

Derrec Becker, a spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, said his department was still assessing damages and costs today and should have a better idea of the storm’s scope on Monday.

Also today, emergency officials were trying to provide any needed help to victims of the storm.

By 8 p.m. tonight, there were still about 100 South Carolina Electric and Gas customers without service in Beech Island, but power is expected to be restored by Monday morning. The Aiken County American Red Cross chapter also has been serving meals to about eight people at a Jackson Middle School shelter. Ms. Jackson said they had assisted with meals in neighborhoods as well and had offered tarps for homeowners to use in covering holes in their roof.

Over the weekend at Cherry Hills subdivision in south Augusta, the Bobby Jones Expressway location of Home Depot delivered water and building supplies to homeowners, the Augusta Red Cross provided shelter for some displaced families, and Augusta commissioners Calvin Holland and Alvin Mason reportedly brought food and water to residents..

The storm that swept through several area counties with tornados caused one death – that of James Adkinson, a 63-year-old Beech Island resident who drove into some trees Friday evening that had fallen across Chime Bell Church Road. Funeral services for Mr. Adkinson will be conducted privately, though the family will receive friends Monday evening at Shellhouse-Rivers Funeral Home, according to the funeral home’s Web site.

Mr. Vaughan said today that his office had determined that a single tornado had tracked from Grovetown to south Augusta to New Ellenton, S.C., increasing in speed along a 35-mile path. Mr. Vaughan said it’s rare for this area to have a tornado that travels such a long distance.

He said a separate powerful tornado also hit Burke County.

He said the tornado that spanned Columbia, Richmond and Aiken counties began in Grovetown as an EF1 classification – wind speeds more than 100 mph – and grew to an EF2 in south Augusta and further intensified to an EF3 – with winds more than 150 mph – in New Ellenton.

Mr. Vaughan said the last time the Augusta area experienced a storm of the same magnitude as Friday’s storm was in 1998 when an EF3 tornado hit Edgefield County, causing one death, nine injuries, damage to more than 60 homes and about a million dollars in damages. In Friday’s case, he said he knew of 25 homes completely destroyed and “there had to have been more than 100 homes that sustained some kind of damage.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had storms of that magnitude,” he said.

The worst damage from Friday night's storm in South Carolina was in Aiken, Abbeville, Anderson and Greenwood counties.

Aiken County sheriff's Lt. Troy Elwell said his department has been providing extra security in the area and asks that the public continue to stay away from damaged homes in Beech Island and Petticoat Junction.

"We're having to shut the roadway down because the onlookers continue to come in," he said. "We're trying to get power back to these residents as quickly and safely as possible."

Georgia's Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine has said he and his consumer services staff will come to Augusta on Monday to provide help to those suffering losses. Gov. Sonny Perdue also is reviewing damage reports, but on Saturday a spokesman said it's not likely the damage level will be enough for federal aid.

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