For the past two years in Columbia County, Severe Weather Awareness Week has been more of a reality than a practice session.
On Thursday as emergency officials statewide were preparing to conduct tornado drills, freezing rain in the area caused several car accidents and forced county schools to shut down.
On the final day of last year's Severe Weather Awareness Week, an F-2 class tornado ravaged property along a path extending from Windmill Plantation subdivision to the Wheatley farm on Clanton Road.
Both events illustrated the necessity of severe weather preparedness, said Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker.
"In all the years, about 20 now, that we've been doing this in the state of Georgia, I don't remember actually having severe weather emergencies like we've had over the past two years," she said. "It focuses even more attention on how critical it is for people to be prepared. Learn from it."
Although there were no serious injuries, nearly 60 wrecks occurred Thursday morning, including two school buses and an Appling fire truck, Tucker said.
The tornado that struck 39 Evans homes on Feb. 22, 2003, caused more than $400,000 in private property damage and cut through the Greenbrier schools complex, causing minor damage.
Students, government employees and others participated in a tornado drill Friday morning to be ready in case of another incident.
"(The drill) actually occurred at a class change time, and the students knew exactly what to do," Greenbrier Middle School Principal Jackie Cearsy said. "Even though they were not in the classrooms, they knew where to go and they were down and quiet within a very short period of time."
Tucker said she wants the memory of last year's tornado and last week's sleet fall to remain fresh in the public's minds. She said she hopes it will encourage residents to take Severe Weather Awareness Week and emergency preparedness more seriously.
"Winter storms, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes - it's the one week during the year we want to check everybody's preparedness," she said. "Do they have NOAA radios? Do they work properly? Do they know what safe areas to go to? Do they have an emergency supply kit?
"It's all about being ready, just in case."
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