The Heat Is Online

El Nino Cited in Georgia Tornadoes

Tornadoes whip through parts of Georgia

6 killed, more than 200 hurt in storms

The Associated Press, March 21, 2003

CAMILLA, Ga. - Tornadoes that one official likened to ''a big lawnmower'' swept across two counties in southwestern Georgia before dawn yesterday, killing six people and injuring more than 200. One of the hardest-hit areas had been flattened by another tornado less than 31/2 years ago.

A man and his mother were killed near Bridgeboro, a rural community in southern Worth County, said Sheriff Freddie Tompkins, who declined to release the names.

Four others, including an infant and an 8-year-old boy, were killed in Mitchell County, said Jennifer Collins, spokeswoman with Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

More than 200 people were injured in Mitchell County alone, Collins said. Officials estimated 50 to 75 homes were destroyed, and 75 were damaged.

Funnel clouds formed between 5:30 and 6 a.m., and there were one or two fully formed tornadoes, said meteorologist Paul Duval of the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.

In Worth County, the tornado cut a streak about 10 miles long and up to 300 yards wide, Tompkins said. ''I was up in a helicopter this morning,'' Tompkins said. ''It looked like a big lawnmower went through there.''

About seven to nine homes were damaged, and three mobile homes were destroyed in Worth County. Tompkins said damage would be in the millions of dollars.

In Mitchell County, the twister carved a quarter-mile swath of damage south of Camilla, knocking down trees and destroying buildings.

This was the same area where a tornado struck on Valentine's Day 2000, killing 11 people in Camilla. It was one of three deadly twisters that ripped through the region before dawn, killing 20 people in all.

About 50 people were treated at the Mitchell County Hospital in Camilla for serious head and chest injuries, broken bones, and cuts, said hospital spokesman Rick Ivey. Others were taken to hospitals in Albany and Thomasville.

Governor Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in Mitchell and Worth counties. He planned to visit Camilla yesterday evening.

Federal forecasters in Washington said that spring flooding is a threat in parts of the South and East while the drought seems likely to continue in the West.

The El Nino phenomenon helped produce extra snow and rainfall to ease the drought in the East during winter, but was not strong enough to end the multiyear Western water shortage.

''Depending on where you live or play, you're either thankful for the drought-busting Eastern rains and snow, or disappointed by the lack of Western snow pack,'' said Conrad C. Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA forecasters have said that El Nino, an unusual warming of the Pacific that can affect weather worldwide, is easing and should end in the coming months.

The spring outlook calls for above-normal temperatures in the western third of the nation and in Alaska. The chances for above-normal rainfall are increased in the far Northwest, parts of the Southwest and southern Texas.

This story ran on page A6 of the Boston Globe on 3/21/2003.