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2 Georgia twister victims laid to rest

Tornado tour
Coverdell (left) and other officials viewed the damage  

More damage repair assistance made available

March 22, 1998
Web posted at: 11:02 p.m. EDT (2302 GMT)

GAINESVILLE, Georgia (CNN) -- Two victims of Friday's devastating tornado in North Georgia were laid to rest Sunday, as state and federal officials announced expanded federal assistance to repair storm damage.

Georgia Gov. Zell Miller and U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Georgia, also said they would push for installation of a new Doppler radar system in the region to provide additional warning of impending severe weather.

"This looks like a real war zone to me. Thirty years ago, I was in Vietnam, and I haven't seen such devastation since then," Cleland said.

Friday's twister, which hit without warning, killed 12 people, injured 91 and damaged or destroyed 400 homes, 30 businesses and 11 poultry farms in five northeast Georgia counties. Two other people remain unaccounted for.

"Not much mercy shown here," said U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Georgia, as he toured damaged areas Sunday with Miller, Cleland and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt.

Gov. Zell Miller
Gov. Zell Miller  

The bulk of the damage was in Hall and White counties. Early estimates put property damage in Hall at $13.5 million and $1.5 million in White.

On Sunday, funeral services were held for Glen Underwood, 50, the owner of a produce store who died when his truck was thrown into Lanier Elementary School, and Bobbie Honney, a sheriff's deputy from nearby Dawson County who was hit by a vehicle while trying to help storm victims.

In many churches throughout in the area, victims and survivors were remembered with tears and prayers during Sunday services.

Five counties -- Hall, White, Dawson, Habersham and Rabun -- were approved Friday for individual federal assistance, which will provide temporary housing for people whose homes were destroyed and allow those whose property was damaged to get grants for emergency repairs.

A victim is remembered at a funeral service Sunday  

On Sunday, Miller and Witt announced that Hall and White counties have also been approved to receive federal money to repair public buildings. Lanier Elementary was severely damaged by the twister, and North Hall High School also sustained damage.

"It's been hard, it's been tough, but I think from what we're hearing, help is on the way," said White County Commission Chairman Roger London.

But federal and state emergency management officials made a plea for victims of the tornado to be patient with them as they attempt to provide aid.

"This is a long process, folks," said Gary McConnell, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. "There's going to be some tough days ... please bear with us."

The devastation in North Georgia comes on the heels of floods in the southern part of the state. In all, 67 of Georgia's 159 counties have now been declared disaster areas. Miller said state emergency resources have been "stretched out pretty thin" by the twin disasters.

"But it's not beyond our capacity," Miller said.

Miller said he was establishing a state task force to look into getting a Doppler radar system for the region because current National Weather Service radar systems that serve the area can't detect a tornado below 22,000 feet.

The nearest National Weather Service centers are in Peachtree City, south of Atlanta, and in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina, and they "can't really see what's going on in this area," said Elaine Sexton, emergency management director for Hall County.

The weather service office in Peachtree City did not issue a tornado warning for the area before the twister hit. Miller said the task force would look into why no warning was issued, in an effort to avoid any similar situations in the future.

Witt also called for residents, schools and businesses to get weather radios that turn on automatically when the National Weather Service issues a severe weather warning.

Correspondent Martin Savidge contributed to this report.


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