Georgia regularly faces many types of natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, severe storms, wildfires and floods. Man-made disasters (such as terrorist attacks and transportation accidents involving hazardous materials) and disease threats (such as pandemic outbreaks) pose a threat to Georgians and all Americans. Disasters and emergencies can happen quickly and without warning. So, it is important to always be prepared.
Severe Thunderstorms and Flooding
The most common type of natural disasters in Georgia are thunderstorms that can cause widespread damage, crippling communities across the state:
- In September 2009, continuous rain resulted in 500-year floods that affected several counties throughout northern Georgia, most of them in and around metro Atlanta. The flood is blamed for at least 10 deaths and $500 million in damage. Some 20,000 homes, businesses and other buildings suffered major damage, and 23 counties received Federal Disaster Declarations.
- A spring 2009 flood in southern Georgia brought federal disaster declarations to 46 counties.
- In 1998, severe storms brought flooding to areas across the entire state, affecting 119 counties in Georgia.
Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Georgia is vulnerable to storms and hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico:
- Western Georgia took a hit from Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, with bands of heavy rains and damaging winds. A record 18 tornadoes touched down when Katrina's remnants passed through the state, killing two people and destroying numerous homes and businesses. In addition, the price of gasoline rose as high as $6 per gallon, due to consumer panic after oil pumps were disrupted in the Gulf of Mexico. Georgia also became the destination of more than 100,000 evacuees from the Gulf States.
- In September 1999, Georgia, along with Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, experienced the largest evacuation effort in American history as Hurricane Floyd bore down on the southeastern coastline. An estimated three million people took to the highways to flee Floyd’s wrath, jamming interstates in search of safety and shelter.
- On July 4, 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto stalled over Georgia, bringing up to 25 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. Thirty-four people were killed, more than 50,000 were displaced from their homes and at least 400 coffins were forced from water-logged graves into flooded streets.
Georgia is at risk for terrorist attacks. While Georgia has not experienced a large-scale attack, they can occur without warning:
- In June 2009, a Georgia Tech student was convicted of conspiring to provide material support for terrorism and was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison.
- As the events of September 11, 2001, demonstrated, terrorist attacks can occur quickly and unexpectedly.
- During the 1996 Olympics, a bombing occurred at Centennial Olympic Park, killing four and injuring 111. The next year, an Atlanta-area health clinic and a gay nightclub were bombed by the same man. Eric Rudolph pled guilty to these crimes in 2005 and is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Pandemics can spread rapidly, leaving little time to prepare once an outbreak starts:
- In June 2009, the World Health Organization declared H1N1 influenza a pandemic. Nearly 50 people died and more than 800 were hospitalized in Georgia because of the virus.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted cases of avian flu in humans in the United States. Georgia ranks as the nation’s leading producer of poultry products.
Winter storms, which often affect north Georgia, result in extreme cold, downed power lines and blocked roads and highways:
- In late January 2014, snow and ice paralyzed north and central Georgia, leaving thousands of motorists stranded in their cars—some for more than 20 hours. According to the Georgia State Patrol, there were more than 1,500 winter storm related accidents and more than 180 injuries. Just two weeks later, in early February, a more powerful storm brought heavy snow and record amounts of ice to north and central Georgia, leaving more than 200,000 Georgians without power.
- In January 2011, a single storm deposited a thick layer of snow and ice that shut down transportation in parts of the state for five days, eventually affecting 70 percent of Georgia.
- In 1993, a Federal Disaster Declaration was issued after a blizzard dropped more than four inches of snow on metro Atlanta and shut down the entire region for nearly three days.
Wildfires spread quickly and change direction rapidly, igniting brush, trees and homes:
- On April 16, 2007, a downed power line ignited drought-parched forest floors in southern Georgia, which led to the largest and most devastating wildfires in state history. Nearly 564,000 acres were consumed in Georgia and Florida, and 18 homes were destroyed. More than 3,300 firefighters from 44 states, Canada and Puerto Rico came in to battle the blazes.
In the last half century, more than 1,450 tornadoes were reported in Georgia, including 25 in 2013. While the months of March, April and May are historically the most active period for tornado activity in the state, tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, even during winter months:
- In January 2013, parts of north Georgia were hit hard by an EF3 tornado, injuring 17 people.
- In March 2012, eight tornadoes pummeled the state over three days, resulting in $12.64 million in property and crop damage.
- Metro Atlanta was struck by a tornado during a March 2008 outbreak, causing half a billion dollars damage to the city, including the CNN Center, Georgia Dome, Georgia World Congress Center and multiple downtown buildings. In total, 45 tornadoes were confirmed over the 24-hour period from eastern Alabama to the Carolina coast, with most of the activity concentrated in the metro Atlanta area, the Central Savannah River Area and the Midlands of South Carolina.
- In March 2007, 21 tornadoes touched down in eastern, middle and southern Georgia. The storms left nine people dead, nearly 100 injured, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The 143-bed Sumter Regional Hospital in Americus took a direct hit from a violent EF-3 tornado with winds of up to 165 mph. The tornado that hit the hospital was a mile wide and cut an astounding 38-mile path through Webster, Sumter and Macon counties.
- Three violent tornadoes roared through Mitchell and Worth counties in February 2000, leaving 21 people dead. Three years later, two tornadoes touched down in the same area, killing six, injuring more than 200 and damaging approximately 300 homes.