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Georgia Ravaged By Weekend Storms That Ripped Across South


Powerful storms struck the southeast this weekend, killing at least 20 people, 15 of them in Georgia. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Grant Blankenship reports from one city - Albany - that had already been hit by a tornado a few weeks earlier.

CHRIS COHILAS: Then you have other uninsured losses to timber and farmland and...

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: The day starts for Chris Cohilas the way most days in Albany, Georgia have started over the last month. Cohilas, chairman of the Dougherty County Commission, tells members of the media what a storm has done to his city. It's a mile-wide slash from the southwest to the northeast. Cohilas says his community can't recover on its own.

COHILAS: We're strong people, but we're really hurt right now, and we need a lot of help. It needed to be here three weeks ago.

BLANKENSHIP: That's because three weeks ago, the first tornado to destroy homes and displace people hit Albany. This past weekend, a mile-wide swath of the city from one end to the other got demolished again. In the aftermath, Cohilas pleaded on social media and the press for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

COHILAS: We're capable of seeing anything through if we have the resources.

BLANKENSHIP: There's a problem with all the volunteer help, though. The neighborhoods on either side of Radium Springs Road were hit hard. Police have a roadblock up, and people are anxious to get in and help. Brandon Sanders has to walk two cases of bottled water to his parents who are trapped in their home by trees.

BRANDON SANDERS: No electricity, no power. A lot of trees are down and stuff like that, so I'm just bringing them water.

BLANKENSHIP: A police officer carries one of the cases of water once Sanders gets to the roadblock. Volunteers are being registered and vetted in the parking lot of a vacant shopping strip nearby. But people here are clearly frustrated. Lane Rosen is here with a chainsaw. He's trying to strike a bargain with Shonna Wiggins to skip to the front of the line.

LANE ROSEN: But if you can get us through the checkpoints with our chainsaws, then we can help you and then somebody else.

BLANKENSHIP: Wiggins' mother-in-law is on the other side of the roadblock. She and her husband are turned away. This doesn't sit well with Rosen.

ROSEN: I'd be arrested if they didn't let me in. I don't know. What do you do? You got to go get your mama.

BLANKENSHIP: Eliza McCall from Second Harvest of South Georgia, a food bank, is waiting, too. She's worried. The tornado a few weeks ago and Christmas break meant a month away from school and regular meals for children in this city where 30 percent of people live below the poverty line. Now this latest storm means school is out again.

ELIZA MCCALL: And so it compounds an already existing issue of trying to get food to these families that don't have it even in the best of circumstances.

BLANKENSHIP: I hitch a ride with one of Lane Rosen's friends back to the disaster area. Trees are down everywhere, and the streets are busy with high-powered off-road vehicles usually used for hunting or on the farm. On a side street deep in one neighborhood, Torie Clemons hefts an axe. He's helping free a car trapped beneath a tree. The warehouse where he works had the roof blown away, so he's out of work for now, but he's not worried.

TORIE CLEMONS: What, me? God take care of it. He'll take care of it. I'm going to be all right.

BLANKENSHIP: What's more, Clemons says he has family and friends that are looking out for him. For NPR News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Albany, Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Grant came to public media after a career spent in newspaper photojournalism. As an all platform journalist he seeks to wed the values of public radio storytelling and the best of photojournalism online.