The National Weather Service identified the destructive storm that raked over northern Bulloch County Saturday night as a "definite" tornado, said Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn.
The twister toppled trees, dropped marble-sized hail, ripped apart several homes and spawned lightning that is suspected to be the cause of a fire that destroyed an old family home, he said.
"Most of the damage was along Ponderosa Road" near Portal, with several structures having been destroyed, he said. George Daniels, whose Ponderosa Road home was demolished while he was inside, was still so upset Monday after the traumatic experience he was reluctant to discuss the loss.
Wynn said local contractor Ellis Wood and others plan to help Daniels this week recover what he can and clean up the debris. There were "about 50 to 60 pine trees down, some through the house," he said.
No one was injured during the tornado's wrath, he said.
Another home was destroyed on Lonnie Burke Road, and a massive tree kept drivers from passing through. Johnson Grove Church, also on Ponderosa Road, was severely damaged as well, said church member Kim Wiggins.
"There was significant damage," she said. "The roof, the sheetrock fell in the sanctuary and fellowship hall, and there was a lot of water damage to the carpet and pews." A utility building was tossed into the branch, and many trees were felled.
The church will congregate at the chapel at Craig Tremble Funeral Home until repairs are made, she said.
Several people in the community braved the night storms to help others, including Dannie Cartee, who was out with his back hoe helping remove trees from roadways Saturday night when Bulloch County 911 received a call that his house on Dannie Cartee Road was on fire.
Several fire trucks and rescue units from Portal, Statesboro, Clito and other volunteer fire departments responded to the scene and worked for hours to douse the fire that started in the attic of the "fat lighter" house, Wynn said. Having seen a great deal of lightning in the area, he said he suspects the cause of the blaze was lightning.
Cartee , his wife Linda, as well as a son, Royce, were treated at the scene for minor complaints as firefighters battled the blaze. Flames could be seen licking from the upper floor windows, and firefighters were on the roof and all around the house trying to save as much of the house as they could.
As more emergency responders arrived and a sprinkle of rain fell, firefighters eventually halted the flames after they broke through the second floor. The family was able to recover some family heirlooms due to the firefighter's quick and thorough response, Wynn said.
More storm cells moved across the county throughout the night, but the major damage was caused by the tornado that skipped over the Garfield and Portal area, Wynn said.
"It was a definite tornado, but they haven't scaled (measured its intensity) yet," he said.
There were no reports of damage elsewhere in the county, he said. Throughout the night, NOAA weather radio issued storm warnings and watches, advising citizens of possible baseball sized hail in some instances, as well as winds over 60 miles per hour. Wynn said he encountered about "five to 10 seconds" of intense, marble-sized hail in the Ga. 25 area where he was responding to damage and emergency reports.
All roadways that were blocked Saturday night are now clear, after work by county employees and the Bulloch County Correctional Institute, he said.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 912-489-9414.