UPDATE: Damage extensive at Hawkinsville harness racing facility

lfabian@macon.comJune 12, 2008 

Hawkinsville's city manager could hardly believe what he saw in the wake of Wednesday's severe thunderstorm.

Only one of 10 horse barns was left untouched at the Lawrence Bennett Harness Horse Racing facility about five miles east of Hawkinsville.

Damage estimates will easily top $100,000, but insurance adjusters have not yet made it to the scene.

Roofs totally ripped away from three of the cinderblock buildings with multiple stalls, three others had nearly half of the roofs torn off and three others sustained some damage, said Jerry Murkerson, city manager.

The facility was padlocked and no one was on the property during the storm.

Harness horse racers train during the winter months and leave for race season in April, said Murkerson, who expects to have the buildings repaired in time for training season.

The city owns the training facility and leases it to a Canadian couple.

It brings about $5 million dollars into the local economy each year, Murkerson said.

Intense storms tracking west tore through Middle Georgia after 3 p.m. Wednesday, hitting Hawkinsville hardest but downing trees in other locations.

National Weather Service meteorologists say the isolated damage is consistent with a severe thunderstorm downburst or microburst where air rushes down from clouds above and fans out close to the ground.

"It's something that's a spur-of-the-moment thing and not easily seen on radar," said Laura Griffith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

In the heat of the day the storms exploded onto the radar triggering a severe thunderstorm warning of winds up to 60 mph but the actual wind speed at the training facility can't be calculated, Griffith said.

The first report of damage came in at at about 3 p.m., when a tree toppled and took down power lines on U.S. 441 in Laurens County, the report stated.

At about 3:20 p.m., a storm blew up in Pulaski County bringing intense lightning that ignited a wheat field in the county, said Leslie Sewell, Pulaski County Emergency Management director and fire chief.

By 3:40 p.m., several trees crashed down in Twiggs County along Ga. 129 and U.S. 80 near the Huber plant, the report stated.

Little less than an hour later, power lines came down along Riverside Drive in Macon as the Middle Georgia Regional Airport recorded a quarter of an inch of rain from the storms.

While rainfall amounts varied across the region, Valdosta reported 1.22 inches of rain Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

There is a 20 to 30 percent chance of afternoon and evening thunderstorms in the forecast through the next week.

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