PEMBROKE — The National Weather Service estimates that a tornado that hit Bryan County April 5 had winds of 185 mph, making it the strongest twister in the United States so far this year.
The storm killed Belinda Thompson, 66, of Ellabell and injured 12 others, including Thompson's husband.
A National Weather Service damage survey upgraded the tornado's strength to EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale from the original rating of EF-3.
A March 5 tornado that hit Winterset, Iowa, with 170 mph winds, killing 6 people, was the strongest-rated tornado until now.
The Georgia storm had a path of nearly 13 miles and was nearly three-quarters of a mile wide at its widest point. It touched down about 5:15 p.m. near Pembroke and lifted off about 15 minutes later near Blitchton.
Surveyors found “massive” tree damage and some homes and structures destroyed. In the county seat of Pembroke, large sections of roof got torn off the courthouse and the entryway to a government building across was demolished. The storm destroyed at least 18 homes in the county and left more than 10 others with major damage, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Motorists dodged the twister as it crossed Interstate 16.
One house in Bryan County built decades before the Civil War was left a gutted shell after being struck by the April 5 tornado.
Owners Richard and Wendy Analla say it took mere seconds for the twister to tear the upper floor off their home when it ripped through the area. They said their property is littered with splintered wood and debris from a house built in about 1830.
The couple took shelter in a downstairs bathroom when the storm struck.
“We heard the wind and felt the house shake, the metal and the wood,” Richard Analla told WTOC-TV. “As quickly as it got here, it was gone.”
At least 82 tornadoes were confirmed from Texas to South Carolina from April 4 through April 6. Of those, nearly 30 struck in middle and south Georgia, including an EF-3 storm that destroyed two electrical transmission towers and damaged numerous homes in Bonaire. Two EF-3 storms also hit Allendale County, South Carolina.