ADEL, Jan 23: They crowded in closets and piled in bathtubs, bracing for their lives as a tornado leveled a southern Georgia mobile home park, killing at least seven people there.
In all, the storms that ravaged the region overnight Saturday into Sunday left at least 18 people dead in the Southeast, including 14 in Georgia. Authorities did not release names of victims on Sunday.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency said seven people died in Cook County, and there were two deaths each in Berrien and Brooks counties, in a largely rural area along I-75 between Albany, Georgia and Lake City, Florida, and three in Dougherty County.
“You can imagine putting a bomb in a mobile home and having it explode. That’s about what it looks like,” Adel Mayor Buddy Duke said Sunday of Sunshine Acres, a community of about 60 mobile homes outside of Adel in Cook County, about 200 miles south of Atlanta.
‘A nightmare in Elm Street’
In Sunshine Acres mobile home park near Adel in Cook County, five people remained missing on Sunday, Duke said.
Residents who survived said they experienced a few minutes of terror that one said felt “like a nightmare on Elm Street,” referring to the popular horror movies. And when they emerged from their hiding places, they saw overturned cars, debris and scores of damaged mobile homes.
“As soon as I walked out the door, people were screaming, screaming for help,” said Phillip Gibbs, 24, who hid in the closet with five other family members.
As the tornado hit, Yesenia Mondragon, 24, said she jumped in the bathtub with her 10-month-old daughter, Layla. Her husband, Ernest Williams, 24, climbed on top of both of them to protect them.
“We were scared. We had never been in a tornado,” Mondragon said.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in seven south Georgia counties. He said the state will seek federal assistance as well.
“These storms have devastated communities and homes in South Central Georgia, and the state is making all resources available to the impacted areas,” Deal said in a statement.
“These storms have resulted in loss of life, numerous injuries and extensive property damage, and our thoughts and prayers are with Georgians suffering from the storm’s impact. … I urge all Georgians to exercise caution and vigilance in order to remain safe and prevent further loss of life or injuries.”
President Donald Trump offered condolences to Deal and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Trump said he had talked to Deal and would talk soon to Scott, acknowledging also that Alabama was “hit hard.”
The National Weather Service issued a rare “high risk” alert for severe thunderstorms, including strong tornadoes Sunday afternoon and evening for southern Georgia and northern Florida. This is the first high-risk alert issued since June 2014.
The weather service’s Storm Prediction Center issued a tornado watch for parts of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. The watch, which included the cities of Atlanta, Georgia, and Tallahassee and Panama City in Florida, remained in effect until Sunday night.CNN