NEWNAN, Ga. — Search teams went door-to-door Friday after a catastrophic storm ripped through the city of Newnan in the early morning hours.
Homes were destroyed, businesses and school heavily damaged. Trees were ripped up and tossed by the powerful winds.
Officials with the National Weather Service said the violent, long-track tornado was an EF-4 storm that hit the city of Newnan.
Gov. Brian Kemp said he was getting constant updates on the storm damage from the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency and signed a state of emergency early Friday morning for several counties across Georgia to bring help to areas hardest hit.
“(It was) a really, really tough afternoon, late afternoon yesterday and into the morning,” Kemp told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot. “Some tragic storms, flooding, a lot of different things involved in many counties across the state. I signed a state of emergency at 2 a.m. last night. We had teams leaving at 3 a.m. going to Newnan, Georgia and other parts to help with some of the damage.”
Newnan was one of the worst hit from the early morning storms.
Downtown Newnan is a historic district with charming homes and shops. Following the powerful storms, it now looks like a war zone.
“There’s a certain moment, when I look at it all, it’s hard to hold back tears honestly,” said Bob Moore, who lives in Newnan.
Jamie Wright told Channel 2′s Tom Regan that he got out of his bedroom just in time, along with his mother.
“I got a warning from Channel 2 actually. I got the app and said we need to get into that bathroom now,” Wright said.
A tree crashed into the home, destroying Wright’s bedroom where he would normally be sleeping.
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“It was really quiet at first and then it got super loud and we just started praying,” Wright said.
Newnan’s fire chief said emergency officials started going door-to-door to make sure everyone was OK.
“They have the city in quadrants, and they are walking on foot checking everyone’s house. So far everyone is accounted for and everything looks good,” Newnan Fire and Rescue Chief Stephen Brown said.
As the tornado bore down, operators at the county’s 911 center were temporarily evacuated and lost their platform that automatically dispatches calls.
“Our systems were down so we were literally working on pen and paper. We had hundreds of calls,” said Coweta County EMA Director Michael Therril.
Knox Furniture, a fixture in the town for 60 years, took a nearly direct hit from the likely twister. But workers there know this too will pass.
“Some guy was saying to me Newnan will never be the same. I said we will be better because of this,” Newnan resident Joy Barnes said.
Lothar Deiss lives along Smokey Road in Newnan. He lost his home early Friday morning as the storms ripped through the area.
He said he’s old enough to have learned you can work all your life for something and lose it in an instant.
“I worked every day on this place, and now it’s all gone. But I have my family. And they’re safe,” Deiss said.
Deiss’ daughter and her family came to his home to ride out the storm. They put the kids in the bathtub and covered them with a mattress. His home took a direct hit.
Over at Newnan High School, every building on the campus now has extensive damage.
In the ninth-grade wing, windows were shattered in room after room. At the football coach’s office, the outside walls fell in, collapsing in on his desk.
“It’s kind of numbing right now. Too much to look at and take in,” said Darryl Brooks, the school’s head of maintenance. “Lots of water damage, lots of roof units.”
The superintendent told Channel 2′s Tony Thomas that officials will assess the damage over the weekend, and before Monday figure out a path ahead, at least for the short term.
Cox Media Group