Some residents say they'll leave tornado-plagued neighborhood

Saturday, March 22, 2003

CAMILLA, Ga. -- Hooch, a mixed-breed Chow, seldom leaves his doghouse after surviving the second tornado in three years to slam a neighborhood residents are calling "tornado alley."

Some people have decided to move and avoid tempting fate. Others vow to rebuild and remain in the close-knit neighborhood, where they are surrounded by relatives and lifelong friends.

"It's really hard to rebuild," said Hooch's owner, Cynthia Morgan. "We're wondering whether to move and start over."

Morgan and her husband, Curtis, found the dog buried in a pile of debris that blew into their back yard early Thursday. The storm damaged their home and swimming pool and demolished their storage shed.

The house was also damaged during the neighborhood's previous tornado, on Valentine's Day 2000. That time, the wind broke the dog's chain, whipped it around his neck and lashed him to a pole.

"He's a lucky dog," said Morgan, who rode out Thursday's terrifying storm in a bathroom with the rest of her family. They didn't have time to bring the dog inside.

The Morgans are undecided about moving from their ranch-style, brick home.

On Friday, their 14-year-old son sat in a lawn chair on the front porch, looking despondent and staring into space. Their 15-year-old daughter stood silently in the backdoor. Their third 18-month-old boy was sleeping.

"I'm shook up. I didn't believe this could happen again," said Curtis Morgan, who works at a nursing home.

Mike Leary, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said tornadoes can be influenced by topography, but he emphasized that there are no studies linking Camilla's tornadoes to topography.

"It's a known fact that tornadoes like to follow ridges," he said. "If there's a swelling in the ground, the tornadoes are influenced by the slight updraft of wind along the ridges. It doesn't take much for a steering factor."

Lucious Kelly, 40, said he'll definitely move. His mobile home was damaged in the first storm and suffered minor damage Thursday.

"I'm going to find someplace else to put my trailer. I don't want to say I'm scared, but I don't want to go back out there," he said. "I believe it's tornado alley. A lot of people ... wonder, 'why me?"'

Thursday's tornado killed four people in Mitchell County, destroying 75 homes and damaging about 200. A tornado also touched down in neighboring Worth County, damaging more homes and killing two people.

The 2000 tornado, which followed almost the same path as Thursday's storm, left 11 dead in Camilla and killed 9 more in other parts of southwestern Georgia.

Linda Bell's brick ranch house suffered minor damage in 2000, but she wasn't so lucky Thursday. She and her husband, Richard, will have to move out while the house is being repaired.

A nearby doublewide belonging to their son and daughter-in-law was demolished. The Bells had to had to lift their three grandchildren out of the rubble.

They are amazed and thankful that no one was injured.

"This is home," said Bell, an elementary school teacher. "We'll definitely rebuild."

Eddie Gilbert, 29, jumped in the bathtub and pulled a mattress over him when the latest storm hit. When it was over, his mobile home had been demolished and blown into a pile about 100 yards away. His trailer was only knocked off its foundation the in 2000.

On Friday, Gilbert and his friend, Henry Spooner, 35, tiptoed on boards and other debris to cross a muddy area that had been grassy yards to reach the wreckage of his trailer.

Both said they believe the tornadoes are an act of God and they have no intentions of moving.

"You don't run from God," Spooner said.

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