ATLANTA — At least one radar-confirmed tornado caused severe damage in west Georgia Sunday morning, leaving five people injured and others trapped in homes as trees were uprooted and toppled onto houses and vehicles.
Residents were also warned to be cautious when it was discovered that a tiger enclosure at a local safari park had been damaged and one of two was missing.
None of the injuries reported was life-threatening, and three of the victims have been released from the hospital, Troup County Emergency Management Agency Director Zac Steele said during a news conference Sunday afternoon. There were no fatalities.
The tornado struck the area shortly before 8 a.m., when weather radar showed an area of airborne debris over the West Point area, according to Channel 2 Action News. It struck a month-and-a-half after another tornado, an EF1, caused damage in the LaGrange area, about 17 miles northeast of West Point, on Feb. 17.
The initial impact area for Sunday’s tornado appears to have been along West Point Road just outside the West Point city limits, sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Stewart Smith said. It then traveled west toward Meriwether County. Between 80 to 100 structures were damaged, with 30 to 40 homes being destroyed, Steele said.
The National Weather Service will send a damage assessment team Monday morning, Steele said.
“We’re asking at this time to please limit non-essential travel,” he said. “The people driving around looking (at the damage) are affecting us being able to rescue all these people and get the trees off these homes and the roadway.”
One neighborhood along West Point Road was severely damaged with trees crushing vehicles and homes. Photos showed downed power lines and caved-in roofs, and some homes were leveled.
The tiger that was reported missing from the Pine Mountain Animal Safari, a more than 250-acre drive-through zoo about 18 miles east of West Point, was captured within two hours. It hadn’t left the immediate area, and another tiger that was at risk of escaping never left the enclosure, Smith said.
Both big cats were tranquilized and returned to a secure enclosure, according to the zoo.
“Fortunately, none of our animals and employees were hurt. However, several animal enclosures were breached, and two tigers briefly escaped,” the zoo said in a statement.
Video shared by Columbus news station WTVM showed extensive, widespread damage to the zoo, including countless downed trees and damage to fencing and structures.
Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency for areas affected by the storms.
“As severe weather continues in these and other parts of our state, we urge Georgians to be mindful of how they can best keep themselves and their families safe,” Kemp tweeted, adding that his office is monitoring the weather and working with local partners to address the damage.
“I ask all Georgians to join us in praying for those impacted,” he said.
Severe weather, including hundreds of lightning strikes and golf ball-sized hail, continued to affect the area throughout the morning and hampered the immediate search and rescue efforts, Channel 2 reported.
Adrian McFarlin told the news station he was in his house when the tornado hit.
“I couldn’t see when we got out. It was dark. All I could hear is ‘Help!’ She was screaming. There was so much stuff on top of her over there,” he said of his neighbor to whom he rushed to help.
Two of his neighbors’ houses were flattened, he said.
“But they’re still alive, in the name of God. Look at God work,” McFarlin said.
Kimberly Rowe was a passenger in a tow truck along I-85 when a tree fell onto the interstate, she told Channel 2.
“A tree ... came through the windshield. I felt like my life flash before my eyes,” she said through tears.
A severe weather risk was expected to ramp up by Sunday night for another round of strong-to-severe storms Monday morning, according to the forecast.