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Southern Tornadoes Kill 2

May 8, 1998

EDGEFIELD, S.C. (AP) _ In a task that has become sadly familiar this year, residents across the South picked up today after tornadoes raced through four states, killing two people and injuring at least 20 others.

Scores of people were forced from their homes and thousands more were without power at the peak of the deadly weather.

Some of the worst damage was along the Georgia-South Carolina state line as storms swept eastward Thursday night and early today, damaging hundreds of buildings and knocking out power throughout the mostly rural region.

``We just kept screaming, ’Help me Jesus; help me Jesus,‴ said Amy Ryles, who survived the storm by running for the bathtub with her husband and 17-month-old son and pulling a mattress on top of them. Their mobile home in the Meriwether area north of Augusta, Ga., was destroyed.

Mrs. Ryles said she never heard a broadcast tornado warning because the storm had knocked out power to the area.

Her neighbor, Pam Hart, was crushed to death when her double-wide mobile home was blown across a road Thursday night.

In Georgia’s Cherokee County, a man who had sought shelter from a tornado under an overpass on Interstate 575 suffered a heart attack and died about 6 p.m. Thursday, authorities said.

At least 20 people were injured in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. Most of the injuries were minor, although Mrs. Hart’s husband was in serious condition and three others were in fair condition today.

The storms are the latest to spawn tornadoes in the South in the past three months. Storms have killed more than 100 people so far this year, beginning in February in Florida. Last month, more than 30 were killed in Alabama and Tennessee.

The National Weather Service had reports of eight possible tornadoes in South Carolina and two in Georgia, but they could not be confirmed as touchdowns until damage assessments later today.

``We’ve got trees down, houses down, mobile homes blown through,″ said John Pettigrew, the mayor in Edgefield, 55 miles southwest of Columbia. ``There’s just a lot of confused people out there that we can’t get to because of the damage.″

Gov. David Beasley toured the area by helicopter shortly after daybreak.

``It’s a miracle that more people weren’t injured or killed,″ the governor said.

About 50 National Guardsmen were helping to clear debris.

One of the hardest-hit areas was near the Clarks Hill Dam on Lake Thurmond. Ellen Tyler said she saw a black funnel clouds from her second-story dining room, but never heard the freight train noise many people describe.

``The only noise I heard was my husband saying, ‘Get your ... down to the basement,’ ″ she said.

Two-inch hail fell in several towns and cities as storms continued rolling through South Carolina until just before dawn today. All schools in Edgefield County and four schools in Orangeburg County were closed.

In Lincoln County, in east Georgia, a tornado damaged several homes near the county seat of Lincolnton and struck a subdivision on a lake, where there was a ``good bit of damage,″ Sheriff Edwin Bentley said.

The sheriff said almost 200 people spent the night in a shelter in Lincolnton, where he had sent 50 mattresses from the county jail.

In southwestern Ohio, storms caused wind damage and flooding Thursday night, uprooting trees and damaging several homes just north of Xenia about 20 miles southeast of Dayton.

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