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Crews begin cleanup of community

COVINGTON - The sound of chain saws and smell of fractured pine trees permeated the air in the High Point community Thursday morning following Wednesday night's storms that tore across southern Newton County, alternately devastating and sparing homes with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Newton County Emergency/Risk Management Director Tray Polk said early estimates were there were between 20 to 40 homes, mostly in the High Point Forest subdivision and on King Bostick Road, damaged to some degree by the storm that hit between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Wednesday night.

Other areas that suffered damage included Channing Cope Road, Henderson Mill Road, Flat Shoals Road and Ga. Highway 36.

Snapping Shoals EMC reported a total of 26 broken power poles in the area. According to Leigh-Anne Burgess, communications/PR specialist, crews worked through the night and continued working through Thursday to restore power. Systemwide, there were 11,500 outages reported, most of which were expected to be restored by Thursday afternoon, she said.

"We are thankful for the hard work our crews do. They're working diligently to restore everyone's power as quickly as possible," she said.

Polk said damage assessment teams are currently working on developing an overview of the damage and he expects that to be completed by today.

"Then we'll submit those forms to GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency) and they will send them on to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) if it looks like there's enough damage to qualify," he said. "It will have to be declared a disaster by the president in order for us to receive funds."

Polk said while the damage was significant and he is hopeful that FEMA will take a look at it, he is doubtful that federal funding will be forthcoming.

"Fortunately, though, most people have insurance and their insurance will take care of it," he said.

He said the National Weather Service would be conducting flyovers in the area Thursday and would decide whether or not to declare the storm a tornado.

Polk said miraculously there were no reports of injuries, despite the fact that huge trees were falling willy-nilly throughout the area, and although the Red Cross was ready to provide shelter, it wasn't needed.

"We went around to all the affected houses that we knew of and each one of them said they had family members and friends that they could go with," he said.

He said one home had 10 children in it and although the home was destroyed, no one was hurt.

Polk had high praise for the crews from Snapping Shoals, Newton County Public Works and Newton County Fire Services which were on the scene through the night.

"They've done a wonderful job. They all work together real good, so it went pretty smoothly," he said.

Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell said roadways, including Ga. 36 and Henderson Mill Road, were blocked with trees in the minutes following the storm, but crews speedily moved them.

"They got them up pretty quickly. We (Sheriff's Office deputies) went through the area checking on folks and didn't find anyone who was injured," he said, adding that through traffic was only interrupted for a short while.

Anyone who needs assistance due to storm damage should call the American Red Cross at 1-866-724-3577.