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Tornadoes sweep through southern Georgia

On this day in 2000, a series of tornadoes moves through southern Georgia, wreaking havoc and killing 18 people.

The storm system that swept across the southeastern United States on February 14 was highly unusual. Tornadoes in the United States typically strike on spring afternoons because they are generated by collisions of warm and cold air. Winter tornadoes are quite rare.

In this case, the tornadoes began to form in the early morning hours of February 14 in Colquitt, Tift, Mitchell and Grady counties in Georgia. These rural counties, located about 200 miles south of Atlanta, reported at least five major twisters. The most intense was an F3 tornado with winds in excess of 158 miles per hour that struck the town of Camilla. It blasted through a housing development and destroyed 200 mobile homes.

Despite the fact that the area’s warning system worked, the tornadoes caught most people by surprise because they were sleeping at the time the warnings were issued over radio and television. A siren went off in Mitchell County, but it couldn’t be heard in the area that was struck by the tornado. In all, 18 people lost their lives, 200 were seriously injured and more than 350 homes were destroyed. In addition, many pecan orchards were wiped out, contributing to damages in excess of $25 million.

President Bill Clinton and Governor Roy Barnes declared the affected counties disaster areas, qualifying them for federal and state relief funds. Vice President Al Gore even visited Camilla personally to view the destruction, the worst seen in Georgia since 1944.

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