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Twisters, storms strike Georgia; 9 reported dead
Tornadoes GAJB101 6355974
Garland Brasawell helps recover medical records from a doctor's office at Sumter Regional Medical Center Hospital, Friday, March 2, 2007 in Americus, Ga. after it was hit by a violent storm Thursday March 1, 2007. - photo by Associated Press
NEWTON, Ga. — Nine people were killed and a hospital was evacuated after it was damaged when powerful storms packing tornadoes hit south Georgia.
    Six people, including a child, were killed when a tornado hit a neighborhood in Baker County in southwest Georgia outside Newton on Thursday night, Newton Fire Chief Andy Belinc said.
    In Americus, two people were killed in the storm, said Judy Legg, secretary for the police chief. Farther north, a tornado killed a man in a mobile home in Taylor County, county Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Lowe said.
    Gov. Sonny Perdue, who flew by helicopter down to areas that had been damaged by the storm, issued an executive order Friday declaring a state of emergency in Baker, Clay, McDuffie, Stewart, Sumter and Taylor counties.
    ‘‘It’s just a blessing, frankly, that we didn’t have more fatalities than we did,’’ Perdue said after viewing the damage.
    ‘‘The state will do everything we can to help the communities affected by the storms,’’ Perdue had said in an earlier statement.
    The order paves the way for state resources to be available for response and recovery activities. Perdue also spoke with President Bush by telephone Friday morning about the storm damage, Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan said. Bush said he would tour the stricken areas on Saturday, though his destinations were still being worked out.
    The insured losses amounted to more than $15 million, nearly half of which in Americus, said Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine. That sum didn’t include damages incurred by utility companies.
    Most of those who were killed in Baker County lived in a low-lying area called ‘‘The Bottom,’’ residents said. Other than mangled cars and the steel frames of destroyed mobile homes, nothing was left standing in the area. Pink insulation from homes could be seen clinging to trees and fences.
    Flossie Anderson, who said she lost a young cousin the night before, was meeting with Oxendine Friday on the field of debris from demolished mobile homes when someone found a page of school photographs with the image of the smiling young girl.
    ‘‘She was very good, very sweet,’’ Anderson said, breaking into tears.
    Marvin Hurst, who lives outside Newton, was sifting through the remains of his house with relatives Friday. He was home with his wife and 31-year-old son when the storm hit. Hurst said his house ‘‘exploded’’ in the wind. Only a few rear walls of the house were left standing.
    ‘‘It’s just by the grace of God that we got out,’’ Hurst said.
    The weather also prompted an evacuation of Sumter County’s main hospital, Sumter Regional Hospital, which suffered heavy damage. Buzz Weiss of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said it appeared that a tornado hit the hospital.
    Sumter County deputy sheriff Eric Brown said the storms had knocked out power to the entire city and part of the rest of the county. He said there were injuries but he did not know how many.
    Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany had taken in 42 patients who were evacuated from Sumter Regional Hospital, spokeswoman Jackie Ryan said.
    By Friday morning, Sumter Regional Hospital, a 3-story brick building, was in shambles. The front windows were blown out and the winds picked up cars in the parking lot and tossed them around. The parking lot was littered with downed light poles and trees.
    Doctors, nurses and volunteers had worked into the night to evacuate the dozens of patients to nearby hospitals.
    ‘‘It was controlled chaos,’’ said Dr. Tim Powell, an anesthesiologist.
    Around the town, the storm uprooted trees and knocked down power lines. Several homes and businesses were destroyed in downtown Americus.
    Also hit was Cheek Memorial Church, whose wooden steeple was knocked off the roof and smashed in front of the church. Marcia Wilson, who lives across the street from the church, said she heard a huge roar as the storm went through.
    ‘‘It felt like the whole house was fixing to fall in,’’ she said. ‘‘We could just hear it coming over us. All I could do was pray that God take care of us and he did. We’re all right.’’
    Weiss said between 40 and 60 homes were damaged in Clay County, south of Muscogee along the Chattahoochee River on the Alabama line.
    In Muscogee County, where Columbus is, the National Weather Service said a twister struck around 6 p.m.
    The storm knocked out power to 15,000 homes in Columbus and another 3,200 across the Chattahoochee in Phenix City, Ala., damaged some buildings and toppled trees into streets.
    In nearby Crawford County, ‘‘dozens of homes’’ were destroyed by twisters, said Sheriff Kerry Dunaway.
    ‘‘Thankfully there were no fatalities but lots of injuries,’’ he said.
    In McDuffie County in east Georgia, a possible tornado damaged about 30 homes and destroyed a few mobile homes, county Emergency Management Agency Director Bruce Tanner said. There were some minor injuries but no serious injuries reported, he said early Friday.
    Associated Press writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report from Americus, Ga.
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