Disaster centers set up at old Baker County Courthouse

March 5, 2007

 Newton -- Many of the people who were hit the worst are now looking forward and taking the first steps in rebuilding their lives. As shock begins to wear off, the rebuilding process  is beginning for many Baker county families. 

The Etchells were one of the families who's home was destroyed.   Billy Etchells told us, "For three days we couldn't find the second half of the house.  And finally my brother flew over in an airplane and he found it about half a mile away."

Yet amidst the terrible tragedy the Etchells have found a silver lining to such a dark cloud. "We're going to turn it into a blessing because we used to live in a mobile home and when we get through we're gonna be living in a house."

They've already started building their new house today.  In other parts of the county recovery efforts underway as well.  All the trees have been cleared from the roadways. 

Victims say much of the cleanup is thanks to people they don't even know volunteering to help.   "I didn't know any of them, and they showed up with chainsaws and started sawing the trees." Sharon Heard says the group from Grady County came to her rescue after her home was destroyed. "That got done and the next morning they were here with their bulldozers and they bulldozed and cleaned my whole place."

Power has been restored nearly everywhere, after almost half the county lost it in the storm.  155 poles were knocked down, and first estimates show $2 million in electrical damage alone.

Many of the survivors are expressing similar feelings about their situation.  "The house is gone, its gone.  But we've got life and that's what matters," Heard says. "Everything that was lost was material stuff it can be replaced.  I feel very fortunate because people right down the road lost their lives."

Six people were killed in Baker County. Nine year old Kursty Thomas, her mother and stepfather, Daron and Phyllis Owens died in their mobile home.

In another mobile home, 12 year old Kierra Crumbley, 45-year old Joan Brinkley and 42-year old Willie Sue Brinkley were killed.

The American Red Cross is stationed at the old courthouse to assist victims. "We're also seeing those who have lost electricity and have lost food, we're giving them vouchers, we're giving them $75 for their food so they're taken care of," said Connie Hardison of the Red Cross.

Baker County authorities say their main priority right now is to make sure those affected by the storm have have shelter, food and clothing.

If you'd like to donate to victims in Baker County, they're being collected at 139 Roosevelt Street in Newton. The center will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week, until further notice.

At this time, they don't need any used clothing, but are in need of canned goods, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene products.