Crews from around southeast Georgia — and with help from folks from much farther away — continued to sift through the remnants of the tornadoes that swept through Effingham County a week ago.
Ellis Wood, owner of Ellis Wood Construction in Statesboro, led several dozen of his men and their heavy equipment to the Ebenezer Road area, helping residents there remove the downed trees and limbs the twisters tore through. They also scooped up and removed the wreckage of the two trailers Wanda Rogers lost to the storms.
“I can now see that we have made tons of progress searching through this,” she said. “It looks like a lot, but it’s a lot better than it was a week ago.”
Wood’s workers and crews from other local construction companies also combed through the Wylly Road neighborhood, picking up trees and limbs that damaged homes and yards there.
Wood had about 100 volunteers and 75 pieces of equipment split between Effingham County and Wrens in Jefferson County. Most of his staff were in Effingham and they are seasoned pros at their tasks.
“The nucleus of this crew has been doing this since the late 1980s,” Wood said, “in a lot of different places.”
The longtime builder called Effingham Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie to see what he could do to help. Wood said sometimes insurance companies don’t want a lot to be disturbed until their claims adjusters can inspect the damage and make an assessment.
“We focused on situations where we knew we could help with people and equipment,” he said.
There are still several piles of material Rogers and her family have to search through to see if there is anything retrievable.
As items are stuffed into boxes to be sorted through later, Rogers has told her daughter to treat them like treasure chests, like it’s Christmas all over again. While many of the things in the boxes may not be salvageable, there could be a keepsake or something else valuable in those boxes.
She also joked that she and Buddy Kennedy had talked about going through all their belongings and removing what they no longer needed or wanted.
“God did that for us,” she said.
But she’s also not dwelling on the loss of so much, adding you have to pick up and move on. Thinking about the bad isn’t going to help, she said, not when there is so much good going on right in front of her.
Even as her and her family’s belongings were strewn over their yard, Rogers has been able to uncover items that somehow survived, such as glass bowls and other glassware, and an antique piggy bank that was resting on a top of a pile of debris, with only a small scratch.
She also found antique quilts that, while not completely recoverable, there is enough for her to save and frame for a memento.
Rogers also is taking solace in the number of people who have turned out to help her and others pick up the pieces, in a very literal sense, from the tornadoes.
“I can’t put into words what’s in my heart,” she said. “My heart is real full in knowing there’s so many good people out there.”
McDuffie said his deputies have been trying to limit the number of onlookers from driving down the road, since the two-lane road has been full with heavy equipment and people coming to help. It doesn’t help that Ebenezer essentially dead-ends, and people have to turn around and drive right back through there, he said.
But he’s also reassured by the people who have turned out to aid those in need of it.
“This says a lot,” McDuffie said. “This is what this country is all about, people coming and helping in a time of need.”
Said Wood: “This confirms there are a lot more good people in the world than there are bad.”
Volunteers have shown up from all over, and not just from southeast Georgia. Rogers said help has come from Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Tennessee and New Jersey, with people coming spending out of their pocket and spending their time to lend a hand.
“Even though we have lost everything, I feel we have hit the jackpot,” she said.
Rogers intends to return to her property and build again, but she doesn’t how long it will before she can do so.
“This is my home and I’m going to come back to it just as quick as I can,” she said. “You never have enough insurance. You can be insurance poor and I’ve often said I was insurance poor. But when you have everything gone, there is never near enough insurance to cover it.
“We’re going to be OK.”