The National Weather Service has determined it was an F-2 tornado that swept through the southeastern portion of Grady County sometime between 12:40 a.m., and 1 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 19, according to Jim Ellis, director of the Grady County Emergency Management Agency. Ellis said winds ranged from 110 mph to more than 130 mph as it bounced along a line from Grady into Thomas County. Before it left here, the tornado damaged 13 homes, starting on Rawls Road, Holstein Lane, Highway 93 and ending on Lower Cairo Road.
Evidence of the twister first touching ground is seen behind the Rawls Road home of Susan and Pat Perkins where the top of a tree was sheered.
The Perkins’ were asleep when the twister zipped across their property. “The curtains started hitting my face, and I told Pat to get up and close the window,” said Susan Perkins the next day. That is when the couple realized pressure from the close by tornado had pushed their window, frame and all, out of the wall and into their bedroom, not a single pane broken. Amazingly, the brick home appeared to be just feet from the tornado’s path. Their large horse trailer parked nearby, was flipped onto its side, a barn was damaged, and tree limbs were scattered all over their property.
Ironically, the Perkins’ granddaughter, Danielle Charistie, a student at ABAC in Tifton, had driven to her grandparents’ late that night to avoid bad weather predicted for Tifton. She arrived at Rawls Road at 11:30 p.m., and was soon awakened to shaking windows. “I always wondered if I’d be able to tell a difference between heavy winds and a tornado,” said Danielle, “I can.”
“We were the lucky ones,” said Pat Perkins, “I guess it just got worse the further along it went.”
From the Perkins’ home, the twister traveled east toward the Johnson’s and then to a local landmark, a trio of concrete silos wrapped in steel bars on Holstein Lane. One of the silos was destroyed, and the other two lost their top portions.
A nearby barn and a concrete block workshop were also demolished. Expecting bad weather, Pat and Louis James were awake in their home, just yards from the workshop and silos, when they heard the damage happening outside. “We thought it was thunder. We didn’t know the world was coming to an end out here,” said Pat James, “This is just astounding.”
The retired couple, who moved here 11 years ago, said they don’t plan to rebuild the workshop or the silos.
Like all of the victims, the James’ are amazed no one was hurt by the powerful twister. “It’s God’s blessing nobody was hurt,” Louis James said, “you can always patch up or rebuild and move on . . .”
Sharon and Chad Johnson, whose mobile home was moved off it’s foundation, lost their vehicles due to damage, lost two outdoor sheds and an above ground pool, are also astounded they survived. “I really believe the hand of God was in it. We had minimal damage as far as what should have been,” said Sharon Johnson.
“We’ve got a lot of damage but we’ve got our lives,” said Chad Johnson.
The victims were also blown away by the help and support of friends and strangers just moments after the tornado. The Perkins said volunteers with the Midway Volunteer Fire Department were in their yard nearly as soon as they could get out of their home. And, the volunteers and friends just kept on coming. “You cannot believe the people that have been here. I bet 50 people have come by,” said Susan Perkins. Included in those wanting to help was the Perkins’ adult son, Charles, who worked a tractor loaned by Rosemary LLC plantation, to clear downed trees and limbs scattered all around his parents’ property.
Among the many praised for their work are Grady EMC and Grady County road crews, who worked from 3 a.m. on into the next day clearing roadways, especially Lower Cairo Road, where downed trees blocked the majority.
District 3 Grady County Commissioner Charles Norton, who represents the area hit, said Thursday, “I’m thankful this storm hit a remote area and not somewhere like Cairo. If it had hit Cairo we would have had some fatalities today.” Norton estimates that $1 million or more of valuable timber was destroyed by the storm.
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