March 21, 1998 in Nation/World

Tornado Hits Georgia, Killing 11, Injuring 80 North Carolina Town Also Ravaged By Twister

Patricia J. Mays Associated Press
 

Deadly tornadoes cut a swath of destruction through the Southeast Friday, tearing apart houses and schools and sending a mobile home flying through the air.

At least 11 people were killed and 80 injured in Georgia; two people were killed and 21 injured in North Carolina.

The Georgia tornado tore through a 10-mile stretch in the rural northeast part of the state. It hit without warning amid powerful thunderstorms at 6:30 a.m. about 50 miles north of Atlanta.

Dozens of homes, schools and poultry farms were hit hard.

“We’ve got a pretty devastating situation,” Hall County Sheriff Robert Vass said.

Five people were killed in mobile homes near North Hall High School, said Elaine Sexton of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Three of the dead there came from one family whose mobile home located adjacent to the school was demolished. The high school’s 74-year-old caretaker, a woman, 32, and her son lived in the home.

Stephen Birchfield, 31, found the six-year-old lying face down in his front yard. He couldn’t find a pulse.

A few miles away, a 12-year-old girl and her 51-year-old grandfather died when their mobile home was thrown into a pond.

A 50-year-old produce delivery man died when his truck was thrown into a caretaker’s trailer at Lanier Elementary School, about 9 miles north of Gainesville.

In Clermont, 13 miles north of Gainesville, a 10-month-old boy found underneath debris in a wooded area adjacent to a mobile home died after he was taken by helicopter ambulance to an Atlanta hospital.

His mother, disoriented, wandered aimlessly through the debris.

“She was just walking around,” said neighbor Terry Carr said. “I put a blanket around her.”

In addition to those killed by the storm, Bobbie Honney, a Dawson County sheriff’s deputy believed to be in her 20s, was hit and killed by a car when she stopped to help at a storm-related traffic accident in Hall County.

Meteorologists said they had no warning a tornado was on its way.

“There wasn’t even anything on radar,” Ms. Sexton said. “There wasn’t anything anybody could have warned us on.”

About a third of Lanier Elementary School was severely damaged. Had the storm hit 45 minutes later, there would have been about 600 children at the school.

“So I guess we were lucky after all,” Vass said.

Most of the injured had cuts, bruises and abdominal injuries.

Gainesville City Manager Carlyle Cox said 12,000 people were without power.

Gov. Zell Miller declared a state of emergency in Dawson, Hall, White, Habersham and Rabun counties after touring hard-hit areas. He also called up 100 National Guard personnel to search for possible missing people and to help prevent looting.

In North Carolina, police said the downtown strip of Stoneville took a direct hit from the storm.

“Stoneville was devastated,” said Mike French, 37, who tried to drive through the town but was blocked by debris. “It was like it just came straight down the middle of the road.”

Trey Belton, assistant fire chief, said: “It is by far the worst thing I have ever seen considering it’s a whole town.”

A 24-year-old woman and an 80-year-old man were killed, said Sylvia Grogan, spokeswoman for Morehead Hospital in Eden.


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