Ellijay devastated by overnight storms, community grapples with cleanup

ELLIJAY, Ga. - Severe storms tore through the Ellijay area overnight. The storms left behind widespread destruction and scattered debris. Thousands are without power as others deal with downed trees, torn roofs, and other damage.

Gilmer County School officials canceled Friday classes due to ongoing road conditions and power outages.

Damaging winds hit Ellijay

Ellen Parks feared her house would collapse as fierce winds and rain pummeled her Ellijay residence.

"It was wind, then it stopped. Bang. And when it did that, the house just started pouring. It took our shingles off the roof," Parks told FOX 5's Deidra Dukes.

Debris was scattered along Old Highway 5 and Ellington Road. Power crews spent the day working to restore electricity to area homes and businesses after a round of storms pummeled the area, taking down trees and power lines.

"I was trying to gather up what I could of my stuff, what’s left," Greg Griffies. told FOX 5's Rob DiRienzo.

His storage unit off Old Highway 5 was destroyed in storms, scattering some it into the winds.

"A lot of it’s gonna have to be thrown away because it got so wet," said Griffies.

Griffies says he is just counting his blessing his losses were just material.

"It couldn’t be avoided. At least nobody got avoided over here. That’s the thing," he said.

The power of the storms can be seen everywhere, from twisted metal to a freezer completely ripped apart.

"Our subdivision has probably about 5,000 homes. It took me about an hour to get out of it this morning," said resident Pat Buchanan.

Georgia Power crews spent their day in cherry pickers trying to get the power lines fixed and electricity back on to customers.

"Wrapped in here is part of the roof of one of the buildings across there which is about 10 foot up," said Buchanan.

Residents say during the tornado warning, they could feel the storm battering them.

"I wasn’t thinking about a tornado because we have so many thunderstorms out here. What I was thinking about is the power going to go out here and how many days is it going to be this time?" said Buchanan.

There have been no reports of injuries.

Storm impacts forestry service

Members of the Georgia Forestry Commission watched crews work as they prepared to relocate.

The building housed equipment used to fight forest fires. It was completely destroyed.

A wall of the structure collapsed, and the roof was ripped off by high winds.

"Equipment wasn't damaged but the building is a total loss," explained Region 2 Fire Management Officer Leland Bass. "The roof is just saturated with water. We don't want to be in there if the roof collapses because it's just nails holding up plywood."

Gilmer County Schools closed Friday

The damage also caused the Gilmer County School District to cancel classes for the second day on Friday. Staff are being asked to report on a 2-hour delay or to report to a supervisor if they are not able to.

In a letter to parents and stakeholders, Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley wrote on Thursday:

"A lot has gone on in the last 24 hours. Now that we have made our announcement to cancel school for students tomorrow, I wanted to take a moment to personally share a few details about how our GCSS staff worked together with our local municipal, law enforcement and emergency management partners to help keep our students safe.

"Last night we experienced thunderstorms that were more severe and farther South than predicted in the forecasts we received from the National Weather Service. These storms caused flash flooding, downed trees, power outages and road closures throughout the county overnight leaving thousands without power. Our schools suffered no significant damage but two of our locations were without full power and the district office was running on a generator. It was obvious that road conditions were bad but road crews were still out and we would not know the extent of the damage until sunrise. We made the decision to announce a 2 hour delay in order to give crews time to clear the roads and prevent buses and cars from being out in the darkness.

"As dawn broke and our EMA partners began to report, it became apparent that the flash flooding had resulted in more road damage than previously thought. With students and staff trapped in remote areas by downed trees, dozens of roads impassable for bus traffic, and the rivers still rising, we made the decision to cancel school for the day.

"Our crews have been out all day inspecting our facilities and addressing minor issues caused by the storm. Power has been restored to all facilities and our network is online. We have coordinated with our EMA partners throughout the day to monitor current road conditions. However, many roads are still closed, several staff members are trapped at home and hundreds of homes are still without power.

"In the end, our decision to cancel school for students tomorrow was due to ongoing road closures. There are still many roads that are impassable to bus traffic due to flooding damage. The county crews have been working for almost 24 hours straight to clear roads but some repairs must wait until the waters recede and the ground dries. It may be a beautiful day tomorrow but if our buses can't roll safely, they won't roll....period.

"We appreciate the cooperation of our law enforcement and EMA partners. We particularly appreciate the hard work of our county crews under brutal conditions and ask that you please SLOW DOWN when approaching them on the road.

"We know that our entire community has been impacted by this severe weather event and many families are still dealing with the results. We ask that you continue to do everything you can to stay safe. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, classes will resume on Monday."