But by the time the weather system that would topple trees and destroy buildings throughout Floyd County reached the Georgia-Alabama border Monday evening, that threat became very real.
Emergency officials Tuesday launched into the beginning stages of disaster relief in the worst-hit areas, including Silver Creek.
National Weather Service officials reported to the community in southeastern Floyd County on Tuesday morning and determined that the damage was caused by straight-line winds that swept through the area, said Tim Herrington, Floyd County Emergency Management Agency deputy director.
The winds destroyed the Silver Creek Mini Mart as well as a mobile home, both on Ga. 101, and a single-family home on Center Road, just north of the Mini Mart.
Nine other homes in Floyd County received minor or major damage, according to Herrington, with preliminary damage estimates coming in at $572,600.
One victim of the storm, James Larry Agan, 65, of Cave Spring, died from injuries he sustained when a tree fell on his vehicle while he was traveling on Cave Spring Road in Polk County.
Polk County Deputy Coroner Tony Brazier said Agan was extricated at the scene by Cave Spring police and Redmond EMS officials and received immediate medical attention.
He was rushed to Floyd Medical Center and made it to the operating room, but died during surgery while doctors were fighting to save his life.
According to the Cedartown Standard, Cedartown firefighters also assisted Polk County volunteer firefighters with the fatal crash.
Polk County Safety Director Randy Lacey said Agan’s son, who was in the vehicle at the time of the accident, sustained non life-threatening injuries.
Emergency management officials and members of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Posse, as well as other responders, were on Ga. 101 at the crack of dawn Tuesday.
By then, the storms had garnered nationwide attention as Assistant County Manager Noah Simon was shown during a segment on “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning highlighting the storm that moved through the Southeast.
Meanwhile, EMA workers were sifting through the rubble and remains of the Mini Mart and damaged homes.
Posse members were traveling via four wheelers and on foot, assisting those whose homes were damaged by providing the necessities, such as baby formula, water, tarps and more.
“We’re going out into the community checking with the residents figuring out what they need,” Herrington said. “If they need something and we have it here, we bring it to them. If we don’t have it, we’ll send out for it. Things like tarps, clean up buckets, stuff like that.”
He said the EMA is coordinating with Silver Creek Mini Mart owner Nick Patel and the Department of Agriculture.
“We’re also communicating with our surrounding counties to make sure that they’re OK,” he said.
According to Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, a command post was set up in the parking lot of the Silver Creek Mini Mart for the Posse.
Officials are advising citizens to avoid the damaged areas if possible. If low-hanging or downed wires are spotted, always treat them as if they are live and notify emergency officials.
“It’s good the community can get together and work as one,” said Tina Ferguson, a posse member. “Get everybody taken care of, and moved out of houses if we need to.”
On Tuesday evening approximately 1,100 Georgia Power customers in Rome were still without power as crews continued to repair blown transformers or downed power lines. Approximately 4,500 to 4,700 customers were still without power in the Northwest Georgia area.
The company was hoping to have power restored to all customers in Northwest Georgia by midnight Tuesday, according to spokesman Brian Green.
Green said that at the storm’s peak— around 6 p.m. Monday — there were about 9,700 Rome customers without power.
Floyd County Public Works Director Michael Skeen said 10 crews were out most of the night and again Tuesday morning working to clear fallen trees from roads.
As of Tuesday evening, all but two of the approximately 30 roads impacted by the storm were open with the others expected to be cleared by dark.
Skeen said Floyd County EMA Director Scotty Hancock had sent a memo out earlier saying the possibility for severe weather was there.
“We knew there was a potential for it since Sunday,” Skeen said. “We knew it was out there. We just didn’t see it coming.”
Skeen also reminded county residents that since there is not enough damage to be eligible for state or federal assistance, property owners can place storm debris on their right of way and pay the county to haul it off, pay a private contractor to haul it off or pile their debris and acquire a burn permit before burning it.
A ‘crazy,’ ‘terrifying’ storm
Across from the Mini Mart, nestled on top of a hill, still stands Michael Wright’s house, though it does have some damage.
His barn, he said, wasn’t as lucky.
“There’s a lot of structural damage, the pool house is totally wiped out, it’s in the swimming pool,” he said. “The barn … used to be a big barn, the wall is barely standing now.”
Wright said he was by himself when the storm suddenly hit. He pulled his car in the driveway and was checking the news inside when he heard hail start to hammer the roof. He went outside to pull the car under the carport and heard the wind.
“I ran through the house, ran downstairs,” he said. “I have a storm shelter … I pulled the steel door closed and, as soon as I pulled it closed, the suction tried to suck the door off the hinges. I laid on my belly and rode it out.”
When he felt the storm shelter stop shaking, he said he opened the door and peeked out.
“There was water pouring through the roof and the furniture in the living room was slammed up against the wall,” he said. “It was crazy.”
Patel, the owner of the Mini Mart, wasn’t at the store when the storm hit, but called to warn his employees to take cover.
“I was watching on my phone all the (surveillance) cameras (in the store), and it suddenly cut off,” he said. “And I called, but the phone was off so that meant to me that something happened. I came here, and it was amazing, but the main thing is that nobody was hurt, just minor injuries.”
Patel owns the business but not the building, he said. He is in communication with the building’s owner to decide what their next steps are.
Patel said he was unsure of how much loss he incurred due to the storm.
“We’re thinking right now, but we haven’t decided anything right now,” Patel said. “We just have to wait for the insurance company.”
Patel said his employees told him they only had moments to run and take cover in the bathroom before the storm hit. Some even hid in the store’s cooler.
For Jessica Bates, it was the millisecond between the Mini Mart clerk holding her receipt out toward her and her reaching for it that marked one of the most intense experiences of her life.
“I handed her my debit card and she swiped the debit card and handed it back and she was about to hand me the receipt for me to sign, and … it happened so fast,” Bates said. “I saw the cigarettes and stuff on the shelves start flying at us, and (the wind) sort of picked me up and threw me back.”
Bates landed at the base of the glass doors of the cooler in the Mini Mart.
“I started yelling to the clerk, ‘we’ve got to get in this cooler because coolers are usually safe’,” she said. “I picked myself up and opened the door to get in the cooler and … there was only one wall standing. Everything was gone. Stuff was flying around us. We just kind of braced ourselves onto the wall, all we were doing was praying. It was all we could do.”
Bates said she knew the winds only lasted a matter of seconds, but it felt like 20 minutes. She had part of a broken wine bottle lodged in her right leg, which she later got stitched up.
When the winds died, Bates said she went outside and wires and power lines were down and sparking.
“As I was walking out, I was looking around,” she said. “The blood was pouring out of my leg, but I just wanted to go check on my kids but I couldn’t get anywhere, because the trees were across the road. It was terrifying, something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Absolutely unreal.”
Staff Writer Jeremy Stewart contributed to this report.