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Tornado’s Wrath Leaves Mitchell County Buried

Wed April 05, 2000 - Southeast Edition
K.K. Snyder

Southwest Georgia is still reeling from the devastating tornado that struck in mid-February and heavy equipment cleanup efforts are under way to return the hardest hit town of Camilla in Mitchell County back to its previous state.

Houses, mobile homes and entire pecan orchards were shredded by the Feb. 14 tornado which produced winds reaching speeds as high as 206 miles per hour, said Deral Dukes, Georgia Emergency Management Agency field coordinator. As victims returned to the area to assess the damage that week, President Clinton declared portions of those counties disaster zones, opening the door for federal relief to reach the victims. Damage estimates are now at $25 million.

Classified as an F-3 tornado — on a scale of F-zero to F-5 with five being the most powerful — the storm tore a 10-mile long and one-half to one-mile wide path through Mitchell, Colquitt, Grady and Tift counties in Southwest Georgia around midnight, killing 20 people and damaging or destroying 250 dwellings.

Since that night, as many as 1,500 state personnel and local volunteers have been on the scene trying to assist with cleanup in any way they could.

“Now that the initial response phase is over with, we can move into cleanup,” Dukes said. Heavy equipment and manpower was sent to the site from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Forestry Unit, the Georgia Department of Corrections and several nearby county public works departments.

Using state and county-owned equipment including numerous front-end loaders, knucklebooms, bulldozers and dumptrucks, efforts were made to clear some of the worst hit areas to allow for 70 mobile homes and travel trailers to be moved in providing temporary housing for the displaced families.

“We had those state people tied up here for over a week so we had to ask the county to contract the work out,” said Dukes.

In heeding that request, Mitchell County recently contracted with Storm Reconstruction Services of Mobile, AL, to complete the necessary heavy equipment cleanup, said County Administrator Bennett Adams. The majority of the debris will be transported to a local landfill while the block and tin will be transported to Thomasville for disposal.

“We started with clearing the debris from the right-of-way while we were waiting to get permission for (Storm Reconstruction Services) to clean up private property,” Adams said. Total cleanup costs were not easily determined at that point, he said, but the county hopes to get reimbursed through federal funds.

The company’s contract with the county is for 60 days, said Adams. He hoped all debris would be cleared away at that point so reconstruction could begin.

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