Monday February 14 7:26 AM ET

Tornadoes Rip Through Georgia

By ELLIOTT MINOR Associated Press Writer

CAMILLA, Ga. (AP) - Tornadoes ripped through southwest Georgia early today, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 100.

Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ken Davis said more casualties were feared. ``As the sun comes up,'' he said, ``I'm sure the injury count may go up.''

Early reports indicate Mitchell County was the hardest hit. American Red Cross spokeswoman Robin Dotson said the Mitchell County hospital was without power and working off a generator.

Six people were reported dead in Mitchell County, five in Grady County and one in either Colquitt or Tift. Emergency officials reported more than 100 injuries.

Dotson said one tornado touched down at 1 a.m. in Camilla, about 200 miles south of Atlanta. She said homes and mobile homes were damaged and some were destroyed.

Authorities couldn't give an estimate of the damage. They said emergency officials was sending up helicopters if weather permitted.

On Sunday night, strong winds also tore through central Arkansas, destroying at least six homes and injuring two people.

The National Weather Service issued tornado watches and warnings for the area but had not confirmed that the damage was caused by tornadoes, senior forecaster John McLeod said.


Twister Cleanup Starts In Georgia
  • At Least 22 Dead, 100 Injured
  • Officials: Many Died In Their Sleep
  • Small Hospital Copes With Massive Influx

    CAMILLA, Georgia
    (CBS) At least 22 people died and more than 100 were injured in the deadliest tornadoes to hit Georgia since 1936. The oldest victim was 85 years old, the youngest 8 months. Many likely were killed as they slept, police said.

    Police say all of the missing have been accounted for and that most of the injured have been treated at area hospitals and released, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

    The tornadoes, which ravaged the southwestern part of the state early in the day Monday, smashed mobile homes, flipped automobiles and demolished trees into splinters. Mitchell County, about 30 miles north of the Georgia-Florida line, was hardest hit, with 14 dead, when two separate twisters cut a 1.5-mile-wide, 10-mile-long path through the county.

    "It was just total destruction," said Kenneth Hill of Camilla, who spent Monday night at a shelter after a tree crashed through his roof. "Mobile homes on top of mobile homes - houses blown away, just frames."

    Families of the injured and missing scrambled to see if loved ones were among the dozens sent to hospitals from Albany to Tallahassee, Florida.

    In Camilla, shelters were set up at churches and schools. An American Red Cross shelter offered cots, food, nursing and counseling for storm victims.

    Mitchell County Hospital, a 33-bed facility more accustomed to infant ear infections or an occasional heart attack, resembled a battleground field hospital.

    More than 120 people swamped the hospital in the early morning. Mothers begged nurses to find their children. Hospital administrators in T-shirts and blue jeans tended to massive head wounds. Patients covered the halls, slumped on lobby chairs and packed into the chapel.

    The hospital even lost its water connection and, for several terrifying minutes before a generator kicked in, all electricity.

    "It was absolutely the worst thing I've ever seen," said Cara Tyson, the hospital's assistant director of nursing, who fought blinding rain and flying tree limbs to get to work. "It was a disaster - people were crying, children were hurt."

    High wind and hail also caused scattered damage in much of Alabama, including widespread damage in Cullman, and knocked out power to an estimated 22,000 customers.

    One or more tornadoes also destroyed at least four houses in the Florida Panhandle community of Sand Hills and damaged more than 40 others, officials said.

    Two tornadoes destroyed at least a dozen structures in Arkansas and injured two people.

    The governor of Georgia will push for federal aid later Tuesday morning.

    On Monday, close to 10,000 people had lost electricity. By Tuesday morning, that number had been reduced to 2,000 but they will likely go without power for a few more days.

    At the First Baptist Church in Camilla, church members had been planning a Valentine's Day party for children on Monday. Instead, they plan to feed rescue crews sugar-coated candy hearts and chocolates Tuesday before they begin a second day of cleaning up.

    "The whole community is helping, doing whatever they can," said Vicki Davis, who ran the First Baptist shelter.

    Pastor Harris Malcom, whose living-room rafters were crushed like toothpicks, saw a makeshift cross formed by two twisted branches of the three-foot-thick pine tree that caved in his roof.

    "You find out what kind of faith you've got when something like this happens," Malcom, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camilla, said.

    Although Malcom's home was destroyed, he emerged from the tornadoes relatively unscathed.

    Mitchell County is a rural area with about 20,000 residents, many who work in chicken processing plants, textile factories and a state prison. The county's farms grow mostly peanuts, cotton or pecans.


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