By Bree Collar, Sentinel Staff Reporter
–A Personal Experience–
Thousands remained without power days after storms ravaged the North Georgia area, blasting through Cooper Creek Saturday evening, Jan. 11. Fire Station 9 Captain Melvin Turner and Justin Turner with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Department joined by neighbors Sam and Connie Miller assessed damages Saturday evening after high forced winds knocked dozens of trees down across Hwy. 60 near the Cooper Creek Store.
A report from the National Weather Service confirmed Monday that 100 mile per hour winds blew through Fannin County with a second tornado touching down just before 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11.
The twister started near Deep Hole Campground Road south of Morganton Highway, traveling east-northeast along Morganton Hwy. and bringing down hundreds of trees.
The EF-1 tornado traveled 3.4 miles knocking down a 40-foot steel radio tower and damaging at least four homes with fallen trees according to reports from 11 Alive news. The tornado weakened, ending near a cemetery close to the Union County line.
The residual heavy rains and wind caused traffic to slow as I drove towards my home near the Turners and Millers off Hwy. 60 in the Cooper Creek area. On assignment for work earlier that day, I thought my responsibilities could be fulfilled and make it home before the projected inclement weather moved into the area.
That didn’t happen. As I neared home, driving around the bend past Fire Station 9, a massive tree blocked the road with multiple cars parked at a standstill having hoped, like myself, to make it home before bad weather began.
In efforts to aid those trying to make it through, I backed up my vehicle and parked at Fire Station 9, packed my purse in a waterproof bag and grabbed an umbrella intent on pressing through the damage to get those stuck free from the fallen tree.
Little did I know as I slipped along the muddy bank to get around the tree that a dozen more laid waste along the highway from the storm that nearly reached the Cooper Creek Store. Many more, possibly hundreds, crashed through the roofs of homes and buildings and along the bank behind the store that I could not see as I passed through the dark.
Finally making it through the trees and down power lines that I thought were telephone line or nonactive electric line, my judgment call was probably a bad one. My mind was focused on getting those help for those people who were stuck at that first tree, as well as getting home to my family.
As I popped up my umbrella being used as a stabilizer cane to not slip, I made my way over the bridge past the store and saw lights from vehicles parked near the Turners and Millers driveways.
Step by step, as the rain continued, a flashlight spotted me and came walking my way.
There was my neighbor Connie Miller who greeted me with surprise as I told her of my harrowing experience and the others in need blocked by the first of many, many downed trees.
Justin (Turner) came my way around 5:45 or 6 p.m. Saturday and I informed him of the cars waiting and what was probably 10 to 12 trees blocking the way.
Soaked from climbing through the trees earlier without the umbrella, Connie walked me down the driveway and into the arms of my anxiously waiting family who sat in the dark.
Adrenaline pumping, I retold my tale as they looked at me in surprise of what I had just attempted. Happy to see me, they all agreed my safety was the top priority and if ever in a situation like that again I’d choose to remain in my vehicle.
Work continued throughout the evening. Sam, Justin and Melvin cleared a path by around 9:30 p.m. that night using chain saws and a tractor so vehicles could squeeze through.
SUNDAY: Emergency personnel including Fannin County Fire Chief Larry Thomas, along with a Georgia Department of Transportation crew cleared back trees out of the road.
Reports from Blue Ridge Mountain Electrical Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) said 14,000 were without power. Sunday 4,800 were still waiting. They were working on Aska and moved into Cooper Creek Monday morning.
Dozens of BRMEMC workers stationed themselves at the Cooper Creek Baptist Church, down Hwy. 60 and along Cooper Creek Road, cutting trees and putting up new poles to restring power lines and hopefully get power up to those in the area.
As of Monday afternoon, power was restored by 2:30 p.m. to many in the area who anxiously waited, worrying about keeping warm, food spoiling, trees on building, down fence line and repairing damage from what could be coined the first massive storm of 2020 for North Georgia in Fannin County