Two tornadoes touched down in Cherokee County on Thursday evening, causing what officials are estimating to be millions of dollars in damage, but resulting in only a few minor injuries.
Both tornadoes were classified EF-1 storms by the National Weather Service, with winds reaching more than 100 mph as they whipped across sections of the county snapping trees, downing power lines and leaving thousands in the dark.
The first tornado moved quickly through Canton at about 7 p.m. with no warning, and another hit south Cherokee near the Cobb border 30 minutes later, officials said.
Immediately following the storms, almost 50,000 customers in Cherokee County were without power. On Friday, cleanup efforts were under way but many remained without power, and some roads remained closed as crews worked to clear hundreds of trees blown into highways by the powerful storms.
“Georgia Power and local Electrical Membership Corps. have made great progress and the number of outages has been reduced. Crews will continue to work until all power is restored,” said Robby Westbrook, director of Emergency Services for the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office.
Nine injuries were reported, but none were life-threatening. One man had to have 40 stitches for an injury he received in Canton, and another woman had to be rescued from her vehicle.
Erika Sutton Knight, who lives in the hard-hit Oakdale Community where power was not expected to be restored until tonight, said they were never warned about a tornado.
“We just kept seeing that it was severe thunderstorms; it never said tornado warning. You have seen trees sway, but they were going all different directions, and then it was just over in 10 minutes, and everyone started pouring out of their houses.”
Knight said she, her husband and three children did not have time to react before the actual storm passed.
“The power went out about an hour before, and we were just gathered around the table playing games,” Knight said. “We looked out and we were seeing it was getting really bad, and then it was over.
Most of the houses in the area sustained some damage, but her home was spared, she said.
“One neighbor’s chimney was ripped off, trees were down up and down Oakdale Road, there are five or more power lines down and it is just everywhere,” Knight said. “Our house escaped, but every house around us had damage. Most of us have been walking around with our chain saws helping each other, and there is a real sense of community.”
Representatives from the National Weather Service and Cherokee County Emergency Management toured the damaged areas Friday and after assessing the areas where damage occurred throughout the county, said a tornado touched down in Canton and contained winds of 105 mph.
On Friday afternoon, they were still touring the area where a second tornado with winds of 110 mph touched down within a tenth of a mile of the Cherokee-Cobb County line inside Cherokee County along Woodhaven Drive, bringing down trees and large limbs.
That tornado then tracked southeast through Cobb County with some of the most significant damage near Bishop Lake where dozens of trees were snapped and uprooted, many causing damage to homes, the report from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management said.
The report said the tornado touched down near the intersection of Patriot Trail and Rampley Trail, then headed south toward Canton, causing mostly tree damage.
Hundreds of trees were snapped or uprooted, the report said.
In Canton, along Marietta Road and Hickory Flat Highway, a Chevron gas station had a portion of its roof peeled back and a gas pump blown over, the report said.
Along Hickory Flat Highway, dozens of trees were snapped or uprooted. The tornado curved to the South on an about 8.5-mile path before lifting near the intersection of New Light Road and Hickory Road
Westbrook said that the tornado was a very significant weather event, and “rates up there with the May 2009 tornado.”
“We have now had six in the last five years, and the strength of this one is pretty much equal to those,” Westbrook said.
When asked how a storm could do such damage, but only injure a few people the emergency director praised the community.
“I think people are very alert. We were in a severe thunderstorm, and even if a warning doesn’t come, they still take cover.” Westbrook said.
Tornado sirens went off in the south end of the county based on a warning issued by the National Weather Service, but no warning was issued by the Weather Service for the north end of the county until after the tornado touched down.
An historic building on Railroad Street in Canton partially collapsed Friday afternoon from damage it received in the storm.
On Friday afternoon, roads in at least three areas were still closed in the city of Canton, including Hickory Flat Highway between Interstate 575 and Marietta Road, secondary streets in the Oakdale Road area and Road on Copper Mine Hill.
Dianne Cagle Westbrook, one of the residents close to the storm damage on Highway 140, said the damage was close, but she was one of the lucky ones.
“I have been picking up leaves and limbs, we are just up from where the worst damage took place,” she said. “I noticed a house that had a tree on it. It got really close, and we still don’t have power or cable.”
Diane Westbrook said she doesn’t like storms, and this one did not seem to be bad until she saw the damage.
“It was just like extremely hard rain for just a little while and the wind was blowing. That was all I realized,” she said. “It was like nighttime, and when it cleared out it was like daylight again. Really strange. I have been trying to get in touch with all my family, and trying to make sure they were all right.”