ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. – A massive storm system raked the Southeast on Wednesday, spawning tornadoes and dangerous winds that overturned cars on a major Georgia interstate and demolished homes and businesses, killing at least two people.
In northwest Georgia, the storm system tossed vehicles on Interstate 75 onto their roofs. The highway was closed for a time, and another main thoroughfare remained closed until crews could safely remove downed trees and power lines from the road.
WSB-TV in Atlanta aired footage showing an enormous funnel cloud bearing down on Adairsville, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, as the storm ripped through the city’s downtown area. The system flattened homes and wiped out parts of a large manufacturing plant. Pieces of insulation hung from trees and power poles, while the local bank was missing a big chunk of its roof.
One person was killed and nine were hospitalized for minor injuries, state emergency management officials said. Residents said no traces remained of some roadside produce stands – a common sight on Georgia’s back roads.
One other death was reported in Tennessee after an uprooted tree fell onto a storage shed where a man had taken shelter.
In Adairsville, the debris in one yard showed just how dangerous the storm had been: a bathtub, table, rolls of toilet paper and lumber lay in the grass next to what appeared to be a roof. Sheets of metal dangled from a large tree like ornaments.
The sky was swirling, said Theresa Chitwood, who owns the Adairsville Travel Plaza. She said she went outside to move her car because she thought it was going to hail. Instead, the passing storm decimated a building behind the travel plaza.
It sounded like a freight train coming through, she said. It looks like a bomb hit it.
Powerful winds ripped through the entire region, with gusts powerful enough to topple tractor-trailers in several places.
In Adairsville, several were flipped on their side in the parking lot of the travel plaza. Danny Odum and Rocky Depauw, both truckers from Marion, Ill., had stopped for breakfast when the suspected tornado hit.
The pair had been driving their trucks through storm warnings all night long. When they got to the restaurant in Adairsville, they went inside to eat. Depauw got a weather alert on his phone, and about two minutes later they saw debris flying through the parking lot and ran for an inner room.
I’ve been stopping here for probably 40 years, Odum said. I just stopped and had breakfast this morning, and this happened.
After it passed, Odum said he went outside to find his truck that was hauling diapers on its side.
Not far down the road, at Owen’s Bar-B-Que, Chrystal Bagley and her coworkers heard warnings about severe weather on the radio, but they didn’t hear Adairsville included in the list of warning areas. Around 11:45 a.m., the doors started rattling, and chairs and knick-knacks began blowing around the room as the door flapped open.
We heard this big old whooshing noise like a train, and then we ran to the restroom, but we had to dodge objects, she said. It was real scary.