WARM SPRINGS, Ga. -- Kevin Mainor saw the tornado coming.
It was about 20 yards away, coming through the woods toward his Judson Bulloch Road home next to Mountain View Elementary School.
“It looked like a big cloud coming,” he said. “I had enough time to run from the door to my kids. That’s all I had.”
Moments later, Mainor’s one-story brick home was in pieces. One side resembled a massive doll house -- three walls, with the fourth missing, giving a giant child enough room to arrange the bed and furniture. A portion of the home’s front was pushed in, the bricks’ mortar cracking in zigzags where it fell.
“I never believed it, but it does sound like trains coming -- but not just one,” Mainor said.
No one in his family was seriously injured.
The deadly storms that swept across Alabama into West Georgia early Thursday did significant property damage, but apparently caused no deaths or serious injuries in Meriwether and neighboring counties.
Columbus, 40 miles to the south, was spared as the worst of the storm passed to the north.
Gov. Nathan Deal flew by helicopter to the school grounds around 1:30 p.m. He’d just come from Ringgold, where he spoke with President Barack Obama by telephone and requested federal assistance.
“We are sorry we are here under these circumstances,” Deal said. “We can be thankful for the hour. At least you didn’t have school children here.”
Deal mentioned the people who had died across Georgia because of the storm. Much of the damage is in rural areas, and he didn’t yet have an estimate of the property damage.
The governor examined the inside of the school, though no one was allowed down other corridors away from the building’s center. He left the school after about 20 minutes to complete an assessment of damage statewide.
Next door, past a twisted fence and broken tree line, Mainor continued the process of picking up.
“We’re just trying to salvage out as many clothes as we can for the kids -- pictures, things that can’t be replaced,” he said.
‘Over in 10 seconds’
During the storm, June Lawrence was across the street listening to the weather with her husband, Phil, who’s been in a wheelchair for 40 years. The report didn’t say Warm Springs, but it was enough for June to wheel her husband into the laundry room.
It was the only room that still had four walls once the storm passed.
“It was over in 10 seconds,” she said Thursday while walking through the remains of her home. “I heard the train sound and it just happened. It sucked the whole top off the house.”
The Lawrence home is missing a roof, and some cabinets are missing their tops as well. The storm took the roof, but left the refrigerator, a kitchen island, furniture and a scattering of other items. A portion of the garage rested on top of their handicap-accessible van.
Friends and family spent the day picking through the wreckage and salvaging what they could.
“I’m thankful,” Lawrence said. “I know I can replace material things, but I can’t replace life.”
The tornado’s path could be seen in a line of broken trees coming down the mountain behind Mainor’s home, between his house and Mountain View Elementary School. Behind the school, playground equipment had been lifted up and then discarded on the ground. Portions of the roof were missing and fiberglass hung from the ceiling and rested on the floor.
At the hotel
At the top of the mountain sits the Best Western White House Inn, where an intermittent alarm sounded every few seconds Thursday morning. Hotel guests asked staff to go inside and get their belongings. Kory Karpich of Atlanta needed his wallet.
Karpich and about 30 others huddled on the ground floor as the tornado passed through. Shamey Lawand, whose family owns and runs the hotel, said she felt like the tornado wanted to get inside. The doors opened and closed, she said, it was like a living thing.
“We just heard an extremely loud noise,” she said. “I felt like it was the devil, honestly. It came through the lobby. The doors started to open on each hallway.”
Karpich said that before the storm the lightning remained constant like a strobe light. He initially thought the tornado wouldn’t hit, though staff had everyone go to the first floor when its arrival was imminent.
“You ever been in a big city and you heard the wind go up against a big building and it whistles?” Karpich asked. “It was like that, but the whistle was louder.”
Three crosses once sat on a plain behind the hotel. Only one stood on Thursday. Standing by the pieces of shingle and broken glass, the elementary school could be seen in the valley below.
“I feel like there’s some message here,” Lawand said. “I definitely feel like everything happens for a reason.”
State park damaged
A large group campsite at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park was so extensively damaged that it likely won’t be functional for months, said Ronnie Eakins, region manager for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ parks division.
Jim Hall of the Pine Mountain Trail Association visited the site Thursday and estimated 70 percent of it was wrecked. The wind was so strong it blew bark off trees before toppling them, he said. It also sucked a walk-in cooler from a breezeway and tossed it out on the grounds of the campground on Large Group Camp Road about 2 miles east of King’s Gap Road, Hall said.
He said portions of the Pine Mountain Trail were “obliterated” as the storm mowed down trees, leaving some areas looking like they had been clear-cut.
Eakins said the ridge behind the Mountain Top Inn on Georgia 190 appeared to have the most damage.
Otherwise the park weathered the winds well; no injuries were reported; and park users needn’t be discouraged from visiting, Eakins said.
Staff writer Tim Chitwood contributed to this report.