Graves said he was saddened by what he saw, but encouraged by the resiliency of those impacted.
“Certainly a lot of damage, that’s obvious,” he said. “But what we noticed as well is the community spirit and the resilience of everyone. I spoke to a lot of folks, saw some tears in eyes and people hurting, but as well saw that sparkle in eyes and smiles about how they are going to rebuild and move on. A tough day for our neighbors, but we’ll get through it.”
Graves has two children at Sonoraville Middle and one at Red Bud Elementary, where his wife also works. Like many in Gordon County, Graves was happy that his family was alright after the twister passed so close to the schools.
“A lot of hugs today,” he said. “My wife is helping some out there as well. She and her mom are going to provide assistance and store things for friends and neighbors that have been impacted. All you can do is reach out and be there.”
He was most happy, of course, that no one in Gordon County was killed. “Homes can be rebuilt, barns can be rebuilt, and farms restored, but we’re very thankful for no fatalities,” he said.
Graves encouraged residents to get involved helping their neighbors, but to do it in the appropriate manner.
“There is a great giving spirit and generosity here,” he said. “Give through the Red Cross, Salvation Army and various groups in cleanup efforts. A lot of folks want to drive to the sites with their chainsaws and that’s certainly welcomed but when it is in an uncoordinated fashion that is not always helpful so join up with the organized efforts that have been approved.”
GEMA officers, along with other first responders and Gordon County EMA members set up a command post at Gordon County Fire Station 1 Thursday. Reporters and news cameras mingled in with emergency workers, who rolled out and inspected maps, gathering and passing information as it became available. A helicopter waited outside for inspectors surveying the area by air.
English, the GEMA director, said the carnage left behind by the tornado was vast.
“The damage here in Gordon County is catastrophic,” he said. “Especially for this time of year. It was significantly strong, I think. Long track, wide track, but people are out working trying to rebuild and repair. It’s heartening to see that but we know folks are dealing with injury and loss of property.”
The tornado took a northeasterly path, English said, destroying homes, utilities and trees in the process.
“Typical tornado type damage: trees chopped off halfway up and trees pulled out by the root-ball, some structures catastrophically destroyed down to the foundation, chicken houses with roofs on the ground, so the damage is very severe where it hit. In other places, it totally skipped over.”
English was relieved and, in some ways, amazed that no one was killed in Gordon County.
“When you see damage like this you are amazed and thankful that there were not more casualties (than one man killed in Adairsville),” he said. “And you don’t know why. You don’t know if people heeded warnings and were saved or by luck or providence they were saved. When I see things like this, they always could be a lot worse.”
Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston, a life-long area resident, said he had never seen the type of damage that Wednesday’s tornado created. He accompanied Graves during the damage inspection.
“Lots of damage, people displaced,” he said. “Its going to take a while to get everything cleaned up and all the power back on. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted.”
Ralston said residents can drop off donations and goods at Sonoraville High School. Volunteers can register at Sonoraville High School to take part in relief efforts, Ralston said. Crane Eater Church of God on Red Bud Road is also accepting donations.
Any contractors seeking to pitch in need to go to Fire Station 1 next to Calhoun Premium Outlets to register.
“Again, we appreciate everyone’s patience,” Ralston said. “This is not a one, two, or three day event. This is going to take a couple of weeks to get back to some type of normal operations.”
“The main thing is the security of the residents and the areas that are impacted,” he said. “That’s our main concern right now. If you can avoid the area, please avoid it. There will be a curfew from the hours of darkness until dawn and deputies from Gordon County and other areas will be there to make sure these places are secure. Anyone thinking of doing any wrong doing, be wary, you will be caught.”
Ralston said there have been no reported incidences of looting thus far and warned that those attempting to do so will be arrested.