ATLANTA - The National Weather Service have confirmed at least four tornadoes touched down in Georgia and expect that number to increase as they survey the trails of destruction and injuries left behind after a deadly series of severe storms moved across through Georgia Thursday.
Weather officials say that tornadoes have been confirmed in Troup and Meriwether, Spalding, DeKalb, and Warren Counties. They will be sending out multiple teams Friday morning to begin surveying the damage.
Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Thursday night, ordering an "all-hands-on-deck-approach" as several Georgia communities went into cleanup mode through the night and into Friday. The executive order directs all state agencies to focus on helping hard-hit communities, allows for certain transportation rules to suspended allowing for aid to arrive faster, and frees up emergency funds.
South metro Atlanta appears to have been hit the hardest by this extremely powerful front. Areas around LaGrange, Griffin, Jonesboro, Lithia Springs, and College Park are assessing after reports of multiple structural damage, injuries, and even entrapment.
Public schools in Butts, Griffin-Spalding, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Newton, and Troup counties have decided to close Friday. All extracurricular activities were also canceled. Some essential employees may need to report. All of Clayton County Schools and a handful of Meriwether County Schools will hold a remote learning day on Friday. More school districts could follow suit as officials assess damage Thursday evening.
Multiple tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings were issued for a two-hour period ending shortly before 5:30 p.m. The FOX 5 Storm Team says the threat to severe weather in metro Atlanta and north Georgia have since passed.
Georgia Power and the Georgia EMCs report as of 6 p.m. more than 100,000 customers are without power, mostly in metro Atlanta and north Georgia. Crews were able to restore close to 60% of those customers within six hours. As of midnight, just over 44,000 customers were reportedly without power. That number decreased to more than 20,000 by 5 a.m. Friday.
Shelters have been opened at the Butts County Recreation Department, the First United Methodist Church located on Maple Street in Griffin, and the First Baptist Church located along Hammett Road in LaGrange.
5-year-old killed when tree falls on vehicle, Butts County officials say
A 5-year-old child has died Thursday afternoon after a tree fell on the vehicle in which he was riding, Butts County officials say.
Deputy County Manager J. Michael Brewer says it happened in the north end of the county near Jackson Lake.
That is the same area where the National Weather Service will be surveying on Friday to determine if a tornado touched down.
The county was under a tornado warning for about an hour starting around 4:30 p.m.
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‘Large and extreme dangerous tornado’ in Griffin
Officials in Griffin say multiple people are trapped inside the Vineyard Creek Apartments located off Georgia Highway near the U.S. 41 Bypass. Images shared on social media show multiple trees down inside the complex with at least one tree having been uprooted and fallen into one of the buildings.
It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.
About a mile and a half north, at the Hobby Lobby near the corner of McIntosh and Old Alabama roads, images show what appears to be the roof ripped off the top of the Hobby Lobby store.
Another image taken of the parking lot shows shopping carts that were tossed around and the corral toppled on its side. FOX 5 saw a portion of the roof in front of the closed store.
Just a few hundred feet away, steel bars that once held up a sign were bent over. Sheet metal debris was seen wrapped around the power lines.
Other images show nearby business signs blown own, shingles ripped from roofs, several trees down with some blocking roadways and at least one that fell on top of a home.
In the roadway in front of the shopping center, FOX 5 saw people moving scraps of metal and other debris from the usually busy roadway in an effort to get it reopened, so more relief can be brought into the area.
The National Weather Service around 4:30 p.m. declared a "large and extremely dangerous tornado" is on the ground and headed toward Griffin. The radar indicated tornado was near Griffin High School.
Storm damage at the Hobby Lobby in Griffin, Georgia where the roof has been ripped off (FOX 5 viewer). (Storm damage at the Hobby Lobby in Griffin, Georgia where the roof has been ripped off (FOX 5 viewer).)
The Griffin Fire Department reports damage to the high school, but the extent is not yet known. The school district has canceled all extracurricular activities Thursday evening and closed school for Friday.
A spokesperson for the city says all the children, who were in school at the time, were safe. Other students who had been stuck at their schools were able to be make it home.
At around midnight, 20 students still remained at Cowan Road Middle School. Officials are working a plan to get them home safely, but it might take a while as some roadways are impassable due to downed trees, power lines, and other debris.
Officials with the Griffin-Spalding County School District gave an update just before 7 p.m. that they are working with emergency officials to see what roads are passable, so they can safely transport the children sheltered at the district's four middle schools home. Officials say they were working to feed the children, but the EMA is not letting the buses on the roadway at this time. Parents are allowed to pick up their children if they safely can.
As of 9 p.m., only 67 students remained in the schools. By 11 p.m., sheriff's deputies were used to make sure the students got home safely.
The fire department says firefighter have been inundated with 911 calls asking for assistance.
There are numerous reports of power outages and at least one gas line rupturing.
The Spalding County Sheriff's Office is urging all residents to stay home.
"There are widespread reports of trees and power lines down, businesses and homes damaged, and we along with all public safety agencies in the county, public works and others are attempting to get into some areas," the sheriff's office wrote in a statement. "If you do not have a good reason to be out, stay home. With trees and lines down and darkness here, it’s not a good night to get out."
Storm damage on UGA-Griff campus (UGA)
Deputies also asked for prayers for those having to go work in the hazardous conditions.
"Be patient, everyone is working as fast and as hard as they can to clear roads, restore power, check on folks, and get you home or to work," the sheriff's office statement concludes.
Unfortunately, hundreds, if not thousands of people were already on their way home and now cannot.
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Man pulled from Griffin home after being trapped by tree for 3 hours
Firefighters in Griffin spent part of the evening trying to pull a man from a home after tree fell on top it.
The man could be seen raising his hands towards the sky as emergency crews wheeled him from the home on a stretcher.
"We’re able to tunnel in and remove debris, and dig and push and pull until we were able to get him out," Bryan Brock, Operations Fire and Rescue
"I was standing near my room and I just heard like the door was like (imitates shuttering). I’m like, ‘Darn, that door’s shaking a little too hard.’ So, I open my room door and it was just shaking, so I close my room door, the floor just shook hard, one good time. Then I heard a boom. My whole roof caved into an L-shape. And I had to stand over my bed just like this, so nothing would fall on me," the man's daughter, Alayssa Roberts said.
A tree expert at the scene estimated it weighed about 40,000 pounds.
Possible tornado near Atlanta's airport
Around 3:45 p.m., the FOX 5 Storm Team detected a possible tornado on the ground near Interstate 285 in College Park. That prompted another tornado warning in Fulton and DeKalb counties and forced the FAA to declare a Ground Stop at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Video shared with FOX 5 shows what appears to be a funnel cloud and debris being aloft.
The ground stop was lifted after the storms passed, but delays persisted throughout the evening.
That storm would continue east prompting warnings in Rockdale, Henry, Clayton, and Newton counties.
Around 4:13 p.m., the FOX 5 Live VIPIR Radar indicated rotation in the storm just over Jonesboro.
Winds topple power pole onto car, brings down brick wall in Cobb County
FOX 5's Tyler Fingert found the side of a business along Oak Ridge Road in Lithia Springs had completely fallen away. It happened around 4 p.m.
The interior of the 18 Wheeler Truck Parts & Chrome was completely exposed to the elements after the wall fell away. Cinder blocks and the bricks that coated the exterior were scattered across the grass beside the warehouse.
"I was in disbelief, honestly, I just asked him, I was like, 'The wall fell?' And he was like, 'Yeah, the whole wall.' And we all went back there to assess the damage. I could see outside. It was just crazy,"one worker said.
The owner says everyone was fine.
An adjacent business also sustained damaged to windows in the front and back, as well as to some of the facade. The owner of the John Thornton Collision Center says two of two employees were injured when the glass blew out. They suffered scratches and scrapes.
Nearby, emergency crews worked to free those trapped by a power pole that fell on a car as it drove along Oak Ridge Road near Thornton Road. That driver was rushed to an area hospital. Their condition was not immediately known.
One witness says it all happened within seconds.
In the nearby Cameraons Crossing subdivision, residents showed FOX 5's Tyler Fingert damage caused by felled trees. About 18 home sustained damage with about 14 requiring assistance from the Red Cross, fire officials say.
Officials are asking drivers to avoid Blairs Bridge Road, Oak Ridge Road and adjacent roads as crews work to clear debris and assess the safety of the area.
Fallen trees pierces Carroll County office, narrowly misses woman
Damage in Carroll County, Georgia following severe storms Thursday, January 12, 2023 (Carroll County Sheriff's Office). (Damage in Carroll County, Georgia following severe storms Thursday, January 12, 2023 (Carroll County Sheriff's Office).)
The Carroll County Sheriff's Office shared several images taken by the Fairfield Plantation Fire Rescue.
Those images show numerous trees down in the subdivision located just northeast of Carrollton.
The sheriff's office says the hardest hit area was the front gate the property owner's officer. One image shows that damage inside the office with a branch of one of the felled trees landing just inches from where someone would be sitting at desk.
"We are grateful the lady working at her desk was ok when the limb came crashing through!" the sheriff's office wrote on its Facebook page.
There were no injuries.
Three escape after tree falls on Norcross mobile home
Residents of a Gwinnett County mobile home were briefly trapped after a massive tree fell during Thursday's storm.
It happened at the Norcross Mobile Home Park located along Rogers Street off Buford Highway.
The residents say it happened around 4 p.m. as torrential rains poured down on the manufactured home. A giant pine tree uprooted and fell onto of the structure, cutting into it.
The 63-year-old homeowner says she was cooking inside at the time and heard a loud boom. She turned around and couldn't believe her eyes.
"I heard the wind blow and I thought, 'Oh, I got take the trash out.' And I walked to the door, the wind blow and I caught the door, and heard a crack," she said. "I look in my hallway and saw my wall is fall down."
The woman's 70-year-old husband, who was also inside, was uninjured. He couldn't believe the damage.
Firefighters came by to assess the damage and recommended they find another place to stay until it was fixed, but the couple says they have nowhere else to go.
Neighbors stepped in to help the couple put a tarp over the tree.
She calls them her "angels."
No one was injured.
Gwinnett County firefighters say they responded to more than a half dozen weather-related calls on Thursday.
Radio tower in Meriwether County collapses in storm
The engineer for 93.3 The Joy FM says their 1,600-foot radio tower collapsed sometime after 4 p.m. Thursday as a tornado-warned storm moved through the area.
The tower is located in St. Marks, Georgia, about 16 miles east-northeast of LaGrange near Greenville, Georgia.
Radio engineers say they have not been able to make it out to the area to inspect the damage and were also concerned about roadway hazards.
The station is listener supported.
The FOX 5 Storm Team was tracking a tornado-warned storm in the area starting around 4:24 p.m. Warnings in the county last for about an hour.
County officials say damage is concentrated in the areas south of Highway 54 to Highway 27 with only sporadic damage elsewhere in the county. The residents of homes in those areas have been evacuated from the area.
The damage in those communities is forcing students at Mountainview Elementary, Manchester Middle, and Manchester High to hold a remote learning day on Friday.
Troup County hard-hit after reported tornado cross state lines
The FOX 5 Storm Team was tracking a radar confirmed tornado about 10 miles northeast of Dadeville in Randolph County around just before 3 p.m. EST. That storm was producing ping-pong sized hail. Wind estimates were around 120 mph.
That storm eventually moved into Troup County prompting a tornado warning. At one point, the FOX 5 Storm Team received reports of a tornado on the ground.
Video shared with FOX 5 show what appears to be a spinning funnel cloud moving through the county.
Troup County schools says all secondary schools were delayed as a result in being dismissed.
A second radar confirmed tornado developed ahead of the first tornado. The FOX 5 Storm team was tracking that around 3:36 p.m. near LaGrange High School.
That same storm around 4 p.m. would then move into Spalding County prompting a warning for that county as well as Meriwether and Pike counties.
Numerous homes and businesses reported damage.
Emergency officials went door-to-door after the storm to make sure everyone was fine.
Other storm damage reported in north Georgia
Just before 1 p.m., Chattooga County emergency managers reports of trees and power lines down in the area of State Street and Selman Avenue near Summerville.
Fannin County Emergency Services around 1:20 p.m. reported several trees down along Mobile Road.
Emergency managers reported around 2 p.m. trees and power line down near Pine Street and W. Girard Avenue near Cedartown.
Heavy rains were reported through metro Atlanta.
Storm damage reported in Alabama
A dynamic storm system developed overnight into early Thursday morning over the middle of the country. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center increased the threat level for severe storms.
That system tore through portions of Alabama. In Moultron, Alabama, about 40 miles southwest of Huntsvillle, a severe storm tore through uprooting and snapping trees.
That same storm would track about 15 miles northeast to Decatur, Alabama, prompting a tornado warning.
Images of the aftermath show toppled structures in that area.
Selma, Alabama also reported damage.
The Associated Press reports at least four people were killed in the severe storms.
The latest forecast
The storms will move east late Thursday ahead of a drop in temperatures. With temperatures falling below freezing in the north Georgia mountains, we could see light snow flurries by Friday morning, but the temperature will remain above freezing.
While widespread precipitation isn't expected Friday, it will be a very windy day. Blustery conditions will gradually diminish through the first part of the holiday weekend.
Stay with FOX 5. This story will be updated with new details as they become available.