'People haven't slept in 21 days': Dougherty Co. EOC update

'People haven't slept in 21 days': Dougherty Co. EOC update

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Albany and Dougherty County officials gathered at the Emergency Operations Center downtown to give the latest information on tornado damage recovery efforts in the city and county at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

EMA Director Ron Rowe said there are three rescue teams out working, after staff had a fly-over today to get a better idea of the damage. There are four dead, and five victims were found and 20 were transported by EMS.

"You can't really tell in some places where one starts and one stops," said EMA Mgr. Ron Rowe "So, we have three different teams out today doing assessments to help us with those numbers, so we will probably have that to you tomorrow."

There are four shelters, and 198 people staying in them.

Secondary searchers are doing a wider sweep. Many heavy power lines are still down. Many state agencies are here helping. They are coordinating donations, and are setting up a warehouse, built it's not ready yet.

Dougherty County Police Jackie Battle said damage is spread across the county. Officers have fanned out into isolated parts of the county, on plantations and farms to check on people, as they help with search and rescue. GEMA is here helping.

For now, civilian volunteers need to wait and stay out of damaged areas while debris is cleared and the area searched. Mobile home parks are hard hit. She said to contact the EOC at 483-6226 for missing persons.

Canine crews are searching for the little boy who was reported missing on Sunday. They are efforting a picture of the boy, whose family is from Ashburn.

Battle said the worst area is around Holly Drive, where trailer frames are piled on top of each other, and it's very unstable.  She said they first had to get the gas and water lines shut off before they could try to help.

She said Mock Road, Sanford, Helen, Ramsey, Hill Road, Radial, and Riverdale are badly hit by damage. She will effort a complete street list when she confers with staff.

She said people should not try to ride these area on ATVs because they could get badly hurt, especially at night.

There are still problems with traffic lights at Branch Road, Sylvester Road, and at Acree.

Battle addressed rumors which are not true, including the child found in a dryer, 10 fatalities, and several killed in a Mock Road store.

"We are hearing rumors that a child was recovered alive inside of a washing machine, in a dryer, a freezer, it depends on who is telling their version of it. And that is not true," said DCP Chief Jackie Battle.

"For those areas that we are still trying to do search and recover in, we do need to have restricted movement within those areas," Battle said.  "We know volunteers want to help, but we don't need them in those areas, we need to go in and do what we need to do."

Three fatalities occurred on Holly Drive, and one on Newcomb St. Dougherty Co. Coroner Michael Fowler said that three men died, and one woman.

Two identities have yet to be verified, and family notifications given. He said everything must be documented, and that takes time. They must determine that people died from the storm, and not some other cause.

He thanked the great work that EMS crews have done. He said his phone must have rung a thousand times since the tornado.

Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said that she wants to thank all the people who have given so much help to the city. "We've been hurting, but we'll get through all this," she said, "and we need to pray together."

Workers should get food and water, and rest. Hubbard thanked County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas for his great leadership.

Cohilas gave a long list of people and agencies he wanted to thank, especially rescue workers and first responders, who have worked 20 hour days for 22 days, since the January 2 storm that blasted the city.

Cohilas said the first storm gave little warning, but hit areas where houses were solid. The second storm had more warning, but hit in bad places geographically.

He said that folks working under the EMA umbrella saved many lives. He mentioned a policeman who drove through a trailer park yelling for people to get out of the mobiles now, as the storm hit. He said that after touring the area by air, we were fortunate.

Cohilas said as an update on the FEMA and GEMA process, there were 82 calls from people asking about family. Six people were re-united. They are vetting calls, and the process can be chaotic. People may be getting reported multiple times, and precise info is needed.

Many Hispanics are displaced, and interpreters are coming to help in communication.

He said that there has been frustration with people who want to immediately jump out there are start doing something to help, and it's understandable. They are glad people want to help, but they need to act in a strategic way with what may be an emotional response to people hurting. He has had calls from across the nation from groups wanting to help. Right now, we are regrouping and planning the best way to deploy resources.

They are waiting on FEMA's response from the January 2 storm, which is forthcoming. Cohilas has asked the governor and our representatives and senators for expedited consideration from FEMA.

Cohilas said he's not sugar-coating anything. He said there will very soon be a huge need for housing for displace people.

In closing, he said that everyone should push Albany's needs on social media, and said that monetary donations are the most immediate need, and Sherwood Baptist Church is collecting funds to help survivors.

He said that the United Way has a fund 100% dedicated to helping Dougherty County storm victims.

Police are asking volunteers and sightseers not to attempt going into restricted areas, especially near the devastated mobile home communities on Holly Drive and Sylvester Road.

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