(WALB) - "I got in my closet and it was like a freight train coming through that's what it sounded like," Albany resident Linda Thomas said.
Monday, January 2, 2017
The January 2 storms began in Southwest Georgia just after 5 p.m.
"It was just a tremendous wind, and when the windows started busting in, you could just hear the whirling and the loud noise all throughout the house. It was just bad," said Brian Cochran.
While no weather-related deaths were reported, the straight line winds that hit the area caused millions of dollars in damage.
Businesses were forced to close and people couldn't stay in their homes in the aftermath of the storms.
"There was pretty significant damage. The inside looked like a tornado hit it. And we'll just have to sit down and see where we go from here, and where we can relocate, and where we can best serve the community and do the Lord's work. That's the key," Love Thy Neighbor CEO Ed Haggerty said after the destructive storm destroyed the building the organization operated out of.
Police also took extra measures to keep residents safe after a widespread power outage left people in the dark for days.
"We understand the curfew is not favorable by many people. But the curfew is very much needed tonight," said Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul after officials ordered a curfew to help protect crews working in damaged areas, residents without power and damaged homes from potential looters who may have seen an opportunity when the power was out.
But when it came down to it, linemen put their lives on the line, working tirelessly to give light and hope to those left in the dark. And the community wanted to show its appreciation.
And it wasn't just people who needed protecting.
It wasn't long before more bad news hit the area. Temperatures were expected to drop and with so many homes damaged in the storm, options were limited. To make matters worse, another round of potentially dangerous storms was on its way. Nobody thought it could get much worse, until January 22.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
This time, the storms were deadly and more widespread. And the number of tornadoes to hit the state in two days even broke Georgia records.
Officials reported that seven died in Cook County, five died in Albany, two were lost in Berrien County and two died in Brooks County, amounting to a total of 16 people killed in the wake of the massive storm system in Southwest Georgia.
The storm also left dozens injured and to add to the terrifying destruction, 2-year-old Detrez Green was reported missing. The Dougherty County toddler still hasn't been found and officials are still investigating his disappearance.
In the wreckage of everything, all anybody wanted to do was to make sure their loved ones were alright. But with crews spread thin throughout so many areas, trying to clear damage and search destroyed homes, getting in touch with family and friends wasn't easy. But Facebook offered a small beacon of hope when it activated the Safety Check feature that allows people to declare themselves safe after a disaster.
Once the clouds cleared and the dust settled, it was obvious that our little corner of Georgia was hurting.
"It's totally devastating. You don't know what to say. You just want to help, but you don't know actually what to do, but you're trying to help," explained Chris Bullard.
But southerners are strong.
"There's a lot of times when people will look at things that are 50 percent or better and call it total damage. Well, I'm here to tell you that we are not totaled and we will make it. We are going to make it," said Dougherty County EMA Director Ron Rowe.
"I wanted to get something out there people can see and share, so a large group of people can pray and maybe help some of these people," said Ethan Lovett.
"I feel like we're showing love to our community by doing what we're doing. All these people are coming down here and helping. They're giving themselves, whatever they've got, to help others," said volunteer Chad Sumner.
And people came from all over the country to help our communities. One group even came from Los Angeles.
"It's really eerie how you can see its path of destruction. You know just basically turn into missiles, they're just, it's really incredible, incredibly sad at the same time," said Reach Out Worldwide CEO Cody Walker.
But for us, it was a treasure to see people come together to help those in need.
"Over the last four days, I know we've done about 4,800 hamburgers and hot dogs that we've been giving to people, storm victims, people helping out and it's just been awesome to see the community come together because it's been a lot more than just us," said George Houston with Zaxby's.
The strength of our communities even inspired a song that quickly went viral on social media.
One year later, and we're stronger than ever
Looking back on last year's storms, it's clear we have come a long way. Homes have been rebuilt, bossiness have reopened and people have begun to rebuild what was lost.
We still have a long way to go, but the storms showed us that our community is strong and resilient. And that together, we can and will recover.