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Neighbors, strangers help pick up the pieces (update: 2)
tornado main 1
Friends and family of Wanda Rogers and Buddy Kennedy pick through the remnants of the couple’s home on Woodland Drive on Sunday afternoon after a tornado swept through the area and destroyed their home. Rogers and Kennedy were not home when the tornado struck. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Family, friends and complete strangers descended on the neighborhood at the intersection of Ebenezer Road and Woodland Drive to help residents there clean up from the aftermath of a possible tornado.

As many as four homes were destroyed and several others suffered varying degrees of damage from the storm that rumbled through about 10 p.m. Saturday night. Officials said six people were hurt, including a 6-year-old child, but they did not suspect the injuries sustained were life-threatening.

Beginning early Sunday, under blue skies, Georgia Power crews, emergency teams, Red Cross volunteers, friends and others flocked to the intersection to start picking up the pieces and putting what could be repaired back together.

“It was devastating,” said Rincon Assistant Fire Chief Kenny Whitten, who lives in the neighborhood.

Wanda Rogers lost her home as the twister plowed through. Ordinarily, she and Buddy Kennedy are practicing with their band on Saturday nights, but they made other plans for Saturday night, going to Metter for a livestock auction.

“We had talked about going and had never been,” she said.

Her family and friends were hesitant to tell her about the damage before she got home, but she had a sinking feeling.

They finally got back to where the house was about 4:30 in the morning. Seeing her home — where she has an elaborate Christmas light display and decorations every year — was hard to take.

“I was thankful that we were all out but devastated to have nothing left,” she said.

Al Lucas, captain of the American Red Cross’ Effingham disaster assistance team, said the Red Cross arrived on the scene about 10 p.m. Saturday.

Red Cross emergency relief teams and outreach vehicles went up and down the roads in the area, checking on the situation and the people there.

“They are looking for damages and anyone in need of assistance and finding out what we can do,” Lucas said.

The Red Cross has set up Rogers and her family with food, clothing and shelter in the meantime.

“They lost everything,” Lucas said.

The tornado crumpled more than a dozen transmission lines that lead from Georgia Power’s Plant McIntosh not far away.

Joan Blissett surveyed the damage to her home, next door to Rogers’. A fifth-wheel trailer had been thrown into the eave of the roof. What was once an upstairs bonus room had been demolished.

She and her husband David came back from visiting her father-in-law in a Savannah hospital after the storm had torn through the neighborhood, where she has lived since 1999.

“I had no idea,” she said of the destruction. “I was thankful we weren’t there.”

They were detained at a barricade until 1:30 a.m. when she and David decided to go her mother’s house. They returned four hours later and at daylight, the authorities let them through.

“And that’s when we saw how bad it was,” she said.

It didn’t take long before her family and friends began the process of cleaning up. It didn’t take long before scores of others showed up, bringing tools and heavy equipment.

“People here came out and started working,” she said. “Half of them I didn’t even know. Some of them I do know. People at my house I don’t know where picking up stuff for me.”

Whitten will never forget the sound of the tornado.

“It was like a freight train running wide open on the tracks,” he said.

By the time he learned the tornado was coming, “there was no way to leave,” he said. So he had his wife take shelter in the bathtub. After it passed, he looked outside and it looked as if a little windstorm had hit his house and immediate area.

He then got a call to accident and injuries, and in the pitch black night, he couldn’t see just how bad it really was.
“When we came around the curve, we couldn’t tell the towers were down,” he said.

He finally saw the power lines across the road and radioed he couldn’t go any further. “You don’t cross the power lines,” Whitten said.

It turns out he was where he needed to be.

Whitten and Rogers had been neighbors in Savannah before she moved to Effingham. He moved not too far away a few years later, not knowing she was living just down the road.

“This is my friends and neighbors,” Whitten said. “That’s what makes it … close to home. These are people I associate with daily.”

Others sifted through the wreckage of Rogers’ home and pulled what valuables and mementos they could find aside for her and started pulling debris aside. Others brought food for the family and the workers or just a shoulder of support.

Rogers, a school bus driver with the Effingham County school system, even had former and current passengers on her route come by to help.

“I have wonderful friends and family,” Rogers said. “We have wonderful neighbors and friends. People I don’t even know have come by to help look for pictures. Effingham County is the best place to live. This is a wonderful community. There are wonderful people in this community, the best on earth.”

Lucas said if anyone has storm-related damages or is in need of help because of the storm to call him at (912) 547-1763.