GORDON COUNTY, Ga. - Cleanup efforts are under way in north Georgia after the area was hit by at least one deadly tornado.
Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in Gordon and Bartow counties, where a man was killed by a fallen tree, up to 100 homes were damaged and 17 injuries were reported. The state insurance commissioner estimates damage losses at $75 million.
Among the injured is 2-year-old Zane McFarland. The boy is recovering Thursday as his 80-year-old great grandmother undergoes surgery for injuries suffered when a tornado destroyed their Gordon County home.
The senior, Betty Stewart, is being hailed as a hero after she covered Zane in a quilt, then shielded his body with her own as the wind swept their home off its foundation and demolished it against two nearby trees.
"She fought a tornado, and she won," said nephew Kenneth Hayes.
Hayes said McFarland’s father was at work in Atlanta while his mother attended school, so Stewart agreed to watch him Wednesday morning. When the tornado approached, Hayes said his aunt grabbed an old family quilt, wrapped up Zane, then laid down on top of him to shield him from harm. They were found several yards away from the wreckage lying along Highway 53. Stewart was still clutching her great grandson.
"She said to Zane, 'I'm not going to let you go,’" said Hayes. "She doesn't remember anything else, except somebody found her in the road. She remembers somebody talking to her when she was out in the middle of the road, and she didn't let go of him."
McFarland suffered a broken femur and underwent surgery at Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital. He is in a body cast, but his father said he could be released from the hospital as early as Thursday. Stewart's injuries are much more severe.
"She's got a broke back in two places, a broken femur. The skin is gone from one hand down to her elbow. She has bleeding on the brain, cuts all over. She's black and blue all over," said Hayes.
Hayes said Stewart was undergoing surgery at Erlanger Hospital. Before she did, Hayes said she kept asking if Zane was OK.
The family considers Stewart a hero for saving Zane's life. Hayes said her one goal is to get home by Sunday so she could attend church.
"We may have to bring the church to her, but she'll be in church," said Hayes.