Across the Deep South, people are picking up the pieces after a weekend of violent storms and tornadoes. Twenty people were killed this weekend, seven of them near the South Georgia town of Adel, where recovery began before the danger was even over.
First Assembly Church of God in Adel became the hub of storm relief efforts by noon Sunday. The Fellowship Hall is filled to the brim with the essentials people lost. Clothes, diapers, shoes.
Pastor Eric Gordon said the congregation got to work not long after the storm blasted through.
“We began to make phone calls and put the word out on social media,” he said. “That’s when everything...it has just spiraled from there.”
Three weeks ago tornados hit about 65 miles to the northwest. Now Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a seven day state of emergency for seven South Georgia counties. Gordon says he’s never seen anything like this.
“I’m 38 years old. Raised here for most of my life and can’t tell you the last time this has happened.”
You get a sense of what he means a little south of Adel where the tornado tore up an area about the size of four football fields. Andrea Watts, a home health nurse, was attempting to get in past a Sheriff’s roadblock there. Watts was trying to find her elderly patient.
“The lines are down and the roads are messed up really bad. They said this was a thunderstorm but it’s more like a tornado. And I’m supposed to be there hours ago,” Watts explained.
She was turned away at the roadblock and her patient was not answering the phone.
Not far from the roadblock, it’s obvious a tornado has passed through. Pine trees are snapped in half. Pieces of houses are in the trees. The home in the middle of the Bullard family’s vegetable farm is obliterated. Jenny Bullard had her arm in a sling and a hospital bracelet as she talked with friends in what was the family kitchen. She gestured past the rubble.
“That’s my bedroom right there,” Bullard said.
She said when the storm woke her at 3:30 a.m., her windows were bulging in and out like sheets of plastic.
“I got up and I grabbed my phone and opened my door. And as soon as I did that wall just fell on me.”
She dug herself out. Neither Bullard nor her parents were seriously injured.
Across the road, men were trying to corral a herd of sheep running through the rubble of two trailers. A farmhand who declined to give his name is watching. Blood seeped from his bandaged head wound. The sheep belong to his son and right now they are his priority. Both his son and his daughter-in-law were seriously injured. Now their home and their business are scattered. A few hours later, another tornado touched down about 75 miles to the north.
Rescue and recovery efforts continue across the region.