Utility crews were around town repairing poles and lines. Volunteers manned chainsaws or backhoes and helped remove debris. Emergency personnel remained stationed in the area as security and safety precautions. Officials from all levels of government toured the city from the ground and the air.
“All of the searches were complete last night. All of the immediate hazards that we were able to take care of were handled,” Bartow County Emergency Management Agency Director and Fire Chief Craig Millsap said Thursday. “We are in full-blown recovery mode right now.”
Millsap said the National Weather Service had toured the area Thursday to determine the severity of the storm that left one dead in the town of roughly 4,700.
The Weather Channel’s Tornado Expert Dr. Greg Forbes reported estimates placed the tornado at a strong EF-3, which has winds between 136 and 165 mph.
Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said Thursday the tornadoes that struck Georgia on Wednesday caused an estimated $75 million in insured losses, adding that the figure will rise as new claims are reported.
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Millsap said the final report had 442 residential structures receiving damage, with 22 of those being totally destroyed. Thirty commercial properties — that is not individual businesses — received some type of damage. Six were completely destroyed.
BCFD Division Chief of Training and Special Operations Dwayne Jamison said an aerial assessment showed a wide path of destruction about a half-mile wide for four or five miles.
“It started in the Hall Station Road area and it cut kind of a diagonal across the city, across Highway 140 — of course the Daiki plant was hit pretty hard — all the way out to Carr Road off Iron Mountain Road out in that area, and then from there you can see ... on into Gordon County,” he said.
“[It] looks like bombs had gone off in different areas around the city,” Jamison added. “Like I said, it kind of skipped, so you’d have an area of destruction and then you’d have an area that wasn’t as bad hurt and then you’d have another area of destruction.”
The main roadways — Interstate 75, Ga. Highway 140, U.S. Highway 41, Main Street and Hall Station Road — were reopened Thursday. Side streets in the center of Adairsville, which included the hardest-hit area, remained closed for security and safety reasons.
Jamison said crews were still mitigating gas leaks and downed lines.
“We still have fuel leaks, things like that that we are dealing with,” he said. “Once we get some of that stuff taken care of, it will be a lot more safe for the volunteers to come in.”
A curfew remains in effect from dusk to dawn. Adairsville Police Chief Robert Jones said Wednesday the department would enforce the curfew as long as necessary.
On Thursday evening, Jones said there had been no reports of looting within the city.
Those looking to help began trickling into the city Thursday, with officials asking volunteers to contact the Adairsville Church of God to sign up to assist.
Among those offering aid along the city streets were students from Adairsville High School.
“It’s our town. A lot of bad stuff has been happening in our town in the past year, and [I] want to do something to help out,” said 18-year-old Dylan Lang.
Molly Seaman, 18, who was working alongside Lang, said she would “really do anything like this if anything happened.”
“We’ve grown up here. We’re kind of like a big family because we’re such a small town,” she said. “It’s so different. It hurts a lot looking at it and looking at pictures of it because we’ve grown up here, and … this stuff has been here forever and it’s just not the same. It doesn’t feel like Adairsville anymore.”
Bartow County Schools Superintendent John Harper late Wednesday had said any Adairsville student absent Thursday would be excused due to the devastation the community suffered.
Bartow County Public Schools’ Director of Transportation Jody Elrod commented on how the department made sure students in Adairsville arrived home safely following the storm.
“We had so many things going on in Adairsville that we had to work around, with the biggest issue being getting our buses from Pine Log [Elementary School] to pick the middle and high [school] kids up, so we were delayed some,” Elrod said. “All in all, it was actually a really good afternoon considering all of the things to maneuver around and the detours to take … it worked out good, but it was a long afternoon.”
He said the department will continue to work closely with law enforcement so bus drivers know of problem areas.
“For the most part, everything is opened up and accessible, there’s still a lot of work to be done the in Adairsville area,” Elrod said. “We’ve got old [Highway] 41, which is passable now, and that will get us from the middle to the high [school], the St. Elmo area — all that square there — we’re not sending any of our buses into there. There’s still a lot of issues with the power lines down and power poles were broken, so we’re going to stay out of there.”
Education Play Station Office Manager Christina Fernandez stood outside the converted 100-year-old house the facility calls home Thursday as crews began removing a massive tree that crashed through the southeast corner.
Fernandez, who had sent students home ahead of the storm, said she, a teacher and two students and their parents huddled in the hallway as the tornado passed overhead.
“We went into our emergency area — there’s a hallway alcove — and I had some tumbling mats from upstairs and we just pulled them on top of us and hunkered down,” she said. “We didn’t hear anything. We saw the wind, we saw lightning, the pressure changed in our ears, and then we just covered up. We felt vibration, and then within, I don’t know, a couple of minutes, it was over. There was nothing and then there was something and then there was nothing again.”
Education Play Station Director Megan Mingone, who was not at the business Wednesday, said she was “heartbroken” when she arrived to find the facility damaged.
“There are no other words than that,” she said. “I was definitely heartbroken, but when I got to hug everybody, then I was OK. That was when I was fine.”
Mingone said while the center will reopen once repairs are made, Education Play Station is looking for a temporary home in Adairsville.
“We are looking for somewhere to rent so the kids have somewhere to start school back up immediately, and we have parents out here helping us so we will be ready to move it,” she said. “We are looking forward to moving forward.”
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