Without warning a devastating tornado hit the Swanson Center early Wednesday morning leaving roof fires and electrical explosions in its wake.
“We were just walking around campus and then everything got quiet,” said victim Kacey Ellis. “The wind picked up out of nowhere. Everyone started running and screaming so we did too. The storm caught up to us before we knew it.”
Ellis was one of many enjoying a warm early spring day as the tornado unexpectedly ripped through the Swanson center, leaving devastation in its wake. Habersham Emergency Services along with Piedmont College nursing students were among the first emergency personnel to respond to the disaster. North East Georgia triage doctors arrived on scene later. Based on their official count, there were approximately 70 victims– 10 people died on site, 15 were critically injured and transported for emergency treatment, and the remaining injuries were minor and treated on site.
“All the major casualties have come from falling debris inside the Swanson Center” said Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management and Safety, Fred Bucher. “The source of the fire [that caused falling debris] was in the duct work, and because this is an older building the duct work is flammable.”
In addition to the age of the building, the position of the building played a major influence on the devastation that occurred. The Swanson Performing Arts Center sits on a hill which is why the building received the biggest blow. Located at the top of the building are massive air condition units. The gale force wind gusts toppled the AC units creating a shortage that started the fires.
The fire, smoke, and explosions created absolute chaos around and within the Swanson Center, but the nurses and other emergency personnel handled the situation with full and systematic competence.
“When nurses and other first responders arrive on an incident like this, our immediate goal is to triage everyone,” said Kaylee White, Piedmont College nursing student. “Every victim is assessed and given a tag color [black, red, yellow, and green], which helps create a clear visual of who we need to help right away and who can wait.”
All emergency personnel worked tirelessly to provide the appropriate care to every victim on the scene.
“We were able to get people to where they needed to go, people got to the hospital and received on site care if needed,” said White. “We reacted to the disaster as best we could.”