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New storms bring even more damage to Fulton County; FEMA assistance expected

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Suzie Thomas walks under a roof damaged May 12, during a strong thunderstorm. Luckily, her business, Suzie's Saddles, in the front of the building, escaped serious damage. The storm felled trees and also damaged several houses on both sides of the Fulton and Sharp County line.
About 10 p.m. on May 12, Richard Thomas knew a bad thunderstorm was in progress, when he heard that freight train sound.

That's when the storm went from bad to worse, as he felt his house rocking and heard the wind causing damage.

"I'll bet it was a tornado," said Thomas, who lives on Highway 62, at the Fulton-Sharp County line. Others in the area have the same opinion.

When he went to investigate, Thomas found part of the underpinning of his home had blown off and a small horse barn had been smashed after flying through the air and landing on its roof. In addition, a fallen tree squashed a dog pen, and, worse of all, much of the roof was blown off of his wife's business, "Suzie's Saddles."

"There was roofing tin all over the highway and cars and semis were running over it," said Thomas, who worked with others, in the dark, to remove it.

A short distance away, on Branscum Road in Sharp County, trees were down and roof damage was evident.

"That was an unusual storm," said Thomas. "It came from out of the southeast instead of the west, where storms usually come from."

For Fulton County Judge Charles Willett, it was just another chapter in a stretch of weird weather.

"Some of the people we've talked to got two, two and a half inches of rain," said Willett. "It got creeks up again and we lost at least one more bridge."

Roads, culverts and bridges were damaged by flooding in late April, and another round of rain a few days later caused more damage, washing out emergency repairs.

On Tuesday, May 10, Willett and Emergency Management Director Darrell Zimmer showed FEMA field investigators four of the county's worst damaged areas and supplied documentation of other damage.

"FEMA saw plently of damage and said we qualified for federal disaster assistance," said Willett.

One of the damaged areas FEMA inspected was on Buck Road, where a 120-foot bridge across Bennett Creek was destroyed by flood water.

An initial estimate calls for repairs costing at least $50,000.

According to Zimmer, FEMA's Preliminary Damage Assessment is that Fulton County has suffered $1.3 million dollars in infrastructure damage.

That exceeds the actual damage from 2008 flooding, which was $1.2 million and, according to Judge Willett, he expects this year's flood damage to easily exceed $2 million.

When a federal disaster declaration is finalized, Fulton County should receive 85% reimbursement of the cost of repairs it makes.

While county road crews have worked all along to make temporary repairs, it may be several months before reimbursement starts.

The county may use a line of credit it has established to begin making permanent repairs.

"We will be working a year or a year and a half to get everything put back like it was," Willett said. "We know roads are rough, but we hope people will bear with us because we've got a lot of miles to fix."

As for Richard and Susan Thomas, they are thankful that they have insurance and their house and commercial building can be repaired.

"It could be worse." said Thomas. "It could have taken the whole building and ruined my wife's business inventory. A roomful of saddles could have been scattered all over the highway."

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