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Airport Closed; School’s Damage Being Assessed

Despite no loss of life amid the severe weather Friday night and early Saturday, Paulding County residents and officials will feel the affects of storm damage for weeks to come.

County leaders Saturday afternoon were assessing the damage Friday’s severe weather caused to private and public property across Paulding but were thankful for the little impact to human life.

“We have no reports of even minor injuries. We’ve been thoroughly blessed all night long,” said Sheriff Gary Gulledge, one of several officials who spoke at a Saturday afternoon press conference at the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. “We’ve got a lot of substantial damage and almost no injuries whatsoever and no deaths.

“We could be out picking up bodies out of fields this morning, but thank God we’re not.”

Chairman David Austin said the county was “pretty devastated in some places,” with an estimated 100 homes damaged or destroyed.

Affected areas included the Southern Trace and Clear Creek subdivisions.

“We’re just so thankful there wasn’t a loss of life,” David Austin said. “There could be some injuries we don’t know about yet.

Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin said parts of the city sustained “significant damage” after the storms went through the northern part of the city, but added that no damage to city property was reported.

“[The storms] went north of the downtown section. I live on Confederate Avenue, which is north of there,” Boyd Austin said. “It basically went about eight houses above mine. There’s significant damage at the cemetery. It came across Polk Avenue and through the cemetery over Confederate and to Hart Circle and Watson Drive.”

In addition to homes, sustaining damage in Friday night’s weather was the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. A hangar was severely damaged, as were several privately owned airplanes. And while the airport’s terminal building remained in tact, it was heavily damaged—several windows were busted out and led to some water damage on inside.

“As of right now, the airport’s closed and will remain closed until we’ve secured everything and made sure we don’t have anything out in the airport that could damage aircraft coming in,” said Blake Swafford, the airport’s director.

Officials with also had damage to inspect Saturday. Only one facility— in Dallas—was affected. One wing of the school had an estimated 60 percent of its roof ripped off. Several windows were broken and six or seven classrooms in the building sustained mainly water damage due to the rain after the winds.

Six mobile units also were overturned by the winds, though they were not being used as classrooms but for storage purposes.

Cliff Cole, superintendent of the , said that while the hope is to hold all classes at the school Monday, the district’s plans could change depending on engineers’ assessment of the damage.

“We could possibly be canceling school for Monday for Poole Elementary, but then we’re also looking at relocations to other facilities for those students,” Cole said.

Despite the extent of the damage, County Administrator Michael Jones said officials had not yet received confirmation that it was a tornado that caused all the damage.

Tornado or no, county officials likely will seek federal assistance in the aftermath of the devastating weather.

“It would be up to [Fire] Chief [Michael] Earwood and Sheriff Gulledge and others to assess the total damage, and then of course that request has to come to the federal government, indeed, to FEMA and to the president for the declaration, and it has to come through the governor’s office,” said U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who spoke at Saturday’s press conference. “It’s my understanding that Paulding County has already been in communication with Gov. Deal regarding that. I’m sure next week we’ll find out.

“Paulding County is one of nine counties in the 11th Congressional District in northwest Georgia, but it’s my closest neighbor—I live in Cobb, and that’s part of the district as well—this county has had some tough luck in the last few years … the resilience and the spirit of these people and the elected leadership—Mayor Austin, Chairman Austin, the first responders—this is a tough community and they will recover. Everything that happens, they look at it as the glass not being half empty, but half full, and thank God there was no loss of life.”

Sheriff’s Office Asks for Cooperation, Offers Assistance

Cpl. Ashley Henson with the said deputies Saturday were in the areas affected by the storms to respond to calls in those places. He had some helpful advice for members of the public.

“We would like to urge the public to try to stay out of these affected areas,” Henson said. These people are trying to collect their belongings, and we want to make sure there’s no looting or things of that nature. So we’d like to encourage folks to stay out of those areas until it’s time for the clean-up efforts to begin.

“We’d also like to encourage folks who are displaced and need a place to stay to call the emergency number our dispatch center—770-445-2117—anyone needing shelter or assistance can call that number and they’ll be directed to the correct folks.”

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