tree damages home

An elderly wheelchair-bound woman and two others were rescued by firefighters after a large tree crashed through their Baldwin County home Monday afternoon.

An elderly wheelchair-bound woman and two others were rescued by firefighters after a large tree crashed through their Baldwin County home Monday afternoon during severe thunderstorms.

There were no serious injuries due directly to the storms, which began about daylight Monday and continued on and off throughout the day.

Strong, gusty winds are believed to have brought down the tree that crashed through the roof of the home of Thelma Russell at 109 Junior Hill Road, off Black Springs Road on the eastern side of Baldwin County.

Damages were so severe to the Russell home that family members are now living with relatives.

Baldwin County Fire Rescue Chief Victor Young said Russell recently had undergone hip surgery and is wheelchair-bound.

Two other women were inside the dwelling when the tree fell through the home. They were identified as Russell’s niece, Karen Whipple, and caregiver, Berlinda Stephens, according to Young.

Shortly after the severe thunderstorm hit the eastern side of the county, causing widespread minor damages, including uprooted trees and breaking large limbs off in some areas, county firefighters received a 911 call about people possibly trapped inside a house.

It turned out to be where Russell lives.

Chief Young said he and a number of his firefighters responded to the area to assist the trapped victims.

The first two firefighters to arrive at the scene were Young and Chris Thomas. Other firefighters arrived a short time later.

As soon as Young and Thomas got there, they went into action.

The veteran fire chief said he knew what they had to do from the start, and they did it.

One of the first things Young recalled doing was ensuring that the victims were not injured. When he and Thomas determined the three women inside had managed to escape injury, firefighters made sure the victims moved to the safest area of the residence.

“We told them at that point and time to shelter-in-place,” Young said. 

The next plan of action for firefighters was to establish how to get to the trapped victims and get them to safety.

Using caution because of downed electrical power lines, firefighters made their way to a door on the side of the residence only to discover that it was locked, according to the fire chief.

“They had that door nailed shut,” Young said.

Firefighters ended up using a specialized tool to gain entry into the residence.

“Once inside, we made it to all three of the victims,” Young said, noting by that time other firefighters had made it to the scene and joined him and Thomas.

When firefighters reached Russell, they hoisted her into the air while she was seated in her wheelchair to carry her to a safe area. The other two victims followed firefighters to a safe area outside.

“I’m thankful this rescue turned out as safely as it did,” Young said.

He credited the professionalism and training of his firefighters with the successful outcome of the rescue.

Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Wayne Johnson said he put the family in touch with the American Red Cross for assistance.

Elsewhere across the county, the same afternoon storm caused a large tree to fall across a portion of Ga. Route 49, Johnson said.

The tree was later cut up and removed.

During the storm, there also was a head-on collision near Lake Laurel Road that involved two pickup trucks.

It was not immediately known whether or not anyone was injured or whether or not weather conditions played a role in the accident.

The wreck was investigated by a trooper with the Georgia State Patrol post in Milledgeville. The wreck report was incomplete.










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