By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
“What a humbling experience.”
That’s how Ware County Fire and Rescue captain and GSAR Team member David Thrift described his trip to Albany Sunday and Monday to offer help to those affected by the weekend storms.
Several members of the Georgia Search and Rescue Team from Waycross, Ware County and surrounding area returned from visiting Albany and the region affected by the weekend tornadoes.
“To see a line of people walking down a road toting everything they own in the world is a humbling experience,” said Thrift. “They lost everything they had in this world.”
Thrift said he and others in the group saw a “lot of devastation, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen tornadoes before, but nothing like this.”
Thrift said members of the GSAR Team were requested Sunday to go to Ashburn, but as they neared Tifton, they were diverted to Albany where a tornado tore a swath about a mile and a half wide that wiped out homes, damaged buildings and “completely demolished a mobile home park with about 225 homes in it.”
Thrift said four fatalities were reported and one person remains missing.
“We left Waycross about 6 p.m. Sunday and arrived in Albany about 8:30 or 9 p.m. Between Sylvester and Albany some roads were blocked because of the extensive damages,” Thrift said. “We got there and hit the ground, began searching from about 11 p.m. until around 3 the next morning. We took a rest and started back around 7 a.m. Monday in one of the heavily populated areas. All 225 homes were completely destroyed. None of them is livable. We were able to find pieces of about 200 homes. There were places where there was nothing but bare ground.”
Thrift said the team’s goal and focus was to search for victims, but by the time they arrived family and friends had already found most of them.
“We did structural assessments, talked to people to see if everyone was accounted for and to see what people were going to need,” said Thrift. “We went up and down from one of the tornado damaged homes to the other. We saw a lot of people that heeded the warnings and although the roofs were torn off their homes, they were huddled in center closets with pillows and stuff so they were OK.”
“We heard some amazing stories of survival,” said Thrift. “It was just heartbreaking.”
Along with Thrift on the search and rescue mission were Jesse Jordan, Joe McPhaul, Santo Nino, Drew McCarthy, Evan Dixon and Matthew Grantham from the Ware County Fire Department, Jim Blackburn, Thomas Haddock and Steve Kiser from the Waycross Fire Department, Damien Carver, Clint Revels, Kevin Coleman, Art Hardeman, Jason Miller, Rusty Lane and Ryan Wedson from Fitzgerald Fire Department.
Waycross Fire Chief David Eddins was also in Albany to assist. He gave the rescue team pointers and directions around Albany, but was not a part of the GSAR Team, Thrift said.