Storm pounds Newborn

Crews work to clear Ga. Highway 142 near Newborn Town limits. Access by vehicle was completely blocked into and out of town.

Crews work to clear Ga. Highway 142 near Newborn Town limits. Access by vehicle was completely blocked into and out of town.

NEWBORN -- A severe storm pounded the town of Newborn early Thursday morning, damaging homes, downing trees and blocking access to the town.

"It was definitely an F1 tornado that touched down just to the west of Newborn. It had winds ranging from 95 to 105 mph," said Chip West with the National Weather Service, who followed the path of destruction through three counties Thursday to make his assessment.

"Once it landed, it was pretty direct. It landed west of town, went through town and headed directly northeast. It stayed on the ground up through Madison and picked up off the ground in Green County just before Lake Oconee."

West said the majority of damage he observed was mostly fallen trees and a few buildings. "Most of the damage to houses was caused by falling trees," he said. "Newborn lost all of their beautiful trees."

The town was under a tornado warning when the storm hit between 1:15 and 2 a.m., according to Jody Nolan with the Newton County Emergency Management Agency. Damage was reported in other areas of the county, but Newborn suffered the brunt of the storm, Nolan said. No injuries or deaths were reported.

Fourteen-year-old Newborn resident Anna Davis is lucky to be alive after a tree fell through the roof of her bedroom. Anna is deaf and wears cochlear implants, which she takes out at night. Vibrations from the storm woke her up, and she was walking out of her bedroom when the tree came crashing through the ceiling, according to her mother, Gail Davis.

The house appears to be a total loss, she said.

"It was like a waterfall," she said of the water that came pouring into the rooms.

But Davis was still counting her blessings.

"We can replace a house. We can't replace each other," she said.

Mayor Roger Sheridan estimated at least 100 large trees were downed and Thursday morning said he did not yet have a count on damaged homes and businesses. One nearby pasture had about 25 trees down. There was extensive damage to the roof of Town Hall.

All electric power to the town was cut, further preventing the operation of gas stations and restaurants. He said Georgia Power indicated it would be at least two days before power is restored.

Massive trees blocked Ga. Highway 142 on both sides of town, requiring large chainsaws and the services of the Georgia Department of Transportation and Georgia Forestry Service to remove them.

Newton County Public Works was on the scene helping to clean up the debris. Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan was at Town Hall on Thursday morning and said there were 13 other areas in the county that experienced storm damage but Newborn was hit the hardest. Public Works cleaned up the other areas first and converged on Newborn at about 10 a.m., she said.

"We've had great coordination with Emergency Management. This is the third event in the past three years so they're getting quite good at coordinating emergency efforts," Morgan said. "This is not a skill we want to excel at out of experience. We'd rather learn by practice."

Morgan said there were no medical emergencies but there were some "very close calls."

Sheridan told of an elderly woman living on Porter Street who was awakened when a tree fell on her house. The woman sat up in bed and bumped her head against a tree limb.

Morgan said all county emergency services were out in force -- Newton County Emergency/Risk Management, Newton County Fire Services, Public Works, Newton County Sheriff's Office, among others -- and she praised their efforts, as well as the stamina of the Newborn community and volunteers. Hays Tractor and Equipment donated the use of an ATV to the NCSO for transporting people through the blocked roadways. Representatives with the American Red Cross and Newton Geographic Information Systems were en route to lend assistance Thursday afternoon.

"I know it's disheartening to every person who's suffered damage, but they're a good community, full of great people and they'll do fine ... We're glad to help them get their community back," she said. "All these people are in our thoughts and prayers ... these families and businesses, it's devastating and we feel for them."

Town officials praised response efforts by the county.

"We've had wonderful cooperation from the county. Emergency Management with (Director) Tray Polk, the fire department, Georgia Power, AT&T, the city of Covington, Newton County, everybody's been out here and they're out there working now. ... To me, it shows what can happen in a small town if people really take an interest. They've really come out and helped and that means so much," Sheridan said.

"The county's been great," agreed Councilman Tom Krieger. "They've gone above and beyond the call of duty."

Georgia Power reported about 400 outages in Newton County, with 393 of those in Newborn.

"We have crews out there working as quickly and as safely as possible to restore power. There's no estimated time on when power will be restored for anybody," spokeswoman Konswello Monroe said.

Snapping Shoals EMC spokeswoman Leigh-Anne Burgess said there were 1,054 customers who lost power in Newton, with the longest outages lasting about four hours.

"These outages were caused mainly by trees on lines and high winds. We currently have several crews at other EMCs assisting," she said.

The impact in Covington was minimal.

"We were fortunate. We had a power outage in the Mason Drive area east of town where fallen trees tore the wire off three poles, affecting about 20 homes. Collier Street in Covington was affected when lightning damaged a lightning arrestor and blew a fuse. Twenty to 30 homes were affected," said Utilities Director Bill Meecham.

Citizen reporters Crystal Tatum and Barbara Knowles contributed to this story.