The storm that ravaged the Stilson community in southern Bulloch County early Thursday morning was determined to be a tornado.
“It was an F1 tornado with some F2 tornadic activity,” said Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn, after spending hours with National Weather Service investigators Thursday, viewing damage caused by the storm.
The twister damaged several homes in the Lillie Hagan Road and Old River Road South area and sent seven people to the hospital, Wynn said.
One person was airlifted to a Savannah hospital, while six others were sent to East Georgia Regional Medical Center in Statesboro. However, later Thursday morning, two of those six were also transferred to a Savannah hospital for further treatment, he said.
The identities of the victims were not immediately available.
Homes were damaged, trees were uprooted, and porches were ripped away from houses.
“It lifted up a storage container (a heavy steel shipping container), moved it and turned it upside down,” Wynn said.
Bulloch County Public Safety officials, Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies and Bulloch County firefighters were among those who responded to the south Bulloch County community where the tornado touched down.
The entire county was briefly under a tornado warning while the fast-moving weather system brought thunderstorms into the area around 3:30 a.m. There were reports of hail and high winds in the Brooklet area, but the major wind damage was in the Stilson area and further east, near the Effingham County line.
Several people were trapped in the debris — five in one location and two in another, Wynn said.
“We have had law enforcement and county work crews in the area since about 3:30 a.m. this morning,” said Sheriff Noel Brown. “There is substantial damage and trees down along this area.”
He asked the public to avoid the area if possible to reduce traffic and allow cleanup efforts to continue.
Brown said that several area residents pitched in to help their neighbors deal with the loss and damage, and he thanked “all citizens who have offered assistance and who are actively helping to clear the downed trees and debris from the roadways.”
As of late Thursday afternoon, Wynn said that three victims remained in Savannah hospitals, while some of the four treated at East Georgia Regional Medical Center had been released. None of the injuries sustained were life-threatening, he said.
“Please keep these residents in your prayers as they move toward recovering from this storm,” Brown said. “We are thankful to have such a caring and giving community.”
Wynn said the tornado appeared to touch down around the Flat Ford Road area, then moved along the ground to the Lillie Hagan and Old River roads area, then “along that side of the river into Effingham County.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.