Residents and crews were back at work Tuesday morning, clearing away and cleaning up the damage from a powerful storm that thundered through central and eastern Effingham County on Monday night.
Damage to homes was widespread and several roads were blocked Monday night, while thousands went without power for hours, according to reports.
"It was terrible," said Springfield City Manager Brett Bennett.
In Springfield, the storm knocked out traffic signals and even ripped the traffic light at Highway 119 and Tusculum Road off its lines. Most traffic signals, Effingham EMA Director Walter Wright said, are designed to withstand gusts of 120 mph and sustained winds of 90 mph.
"We had all our officers out blocking roads so drivers didn’t run into trees," Bennett said.
Wright had a list of nearly two dozen areas reporting damage or effects from the storm that ripped through Effingham County around 5 p.m. Monday. Five houses in Brookstone subdivision were reported as having trees fall upon them, and three homes in Cobbleton also had trees fall on them. An airport on Mock Road had the roof ripped off its hangar, and an airplane inside the hangar also was damaged.
"It started at Old Dixie Highway and Kieffer Road and ran from there," Wright said of the storm.
There were at least five locations in Springfield with reports of trees having been blown down, Bennett said.
"Some were very large pines and oaks down on power lines," he said.
Ash Street and Stillwell Road were the most affected, Bennett added, and the bridge at Stillwell Road also was damaged slightly.
Brookstone residents were out on a humid Tuesday morning, picking up the pieces, large and small.
"We don’t know if it was a tornado or straight line winds," said Larry Smith, whose home had a hole in the roof and also had his fence topped over. "It never really hit the ground. Everything looked like it snapped."
Smith was on his way home when his wife Maria called him.
"She said, ‘we’re having a tornado at the house,’" he related. "She said, when I was about halfway home, ‘don’t come home.’"
He made his way home and turned onto his street. From there, he could see the damage to his roof.
"When I came around the corner, I just put my head down and said, ‘thank God for insurance, and thank God everybody was safe.’"
Maria Smith was home with their two boys when the storm rumbled through the neighborhood.
"It sounded like an explosion really," she said. "We had seconds to spare before the tree fell in and we went into the laundry room. We saw the hole in the roof and water coming in."
When all she was a cloud of debris, she gathered the kids and headed back into the laundry room to wait another brief, potent storm.
"It was very scary," Maria Smith said. "We were praying the whole time. I think God helped us in that way. He was in control."
Across the street, Malka Yeager picked the detritus of the trees and limbs in her yard. A tree in her neighbor’s yard crashed through her fence, trees behind her home were felled and her other next-door neighbor had a large, old oak plummet onto their house.
"It was in the blink of an eye," she said of the storm.
Her dog Buddy became very antsy with the thunder, Yeager said. Without a basement in which to seek shelter, she opted for the laundry room.
"It left as quickly as it was here. I’m still a little dumbfounded," she said. "It was just so fast. It happened in the blink of an eye. The rain was almost horizontal."
Wright got the first calls about damage around 5:30 Monday evening. He spoke with a Georgia Power representative early Tuesday morning who told him there were 2,900 customers without power as of 3 a.m. that day
At the Smiths, crews were on hand Monday night to begin repairing the damage, putting a tarp on the roof to prevent more rain from coming through the hole. He expressed his gratitude for Floyd Zettler and his crew and his amazement that no one was hurt in the storm.
"Thank God everybody was safe," he said.