ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. - For years, family and friends teased Misty Baker about how often she fled to her underground storm shelter during bad weather.
"We made fun of her," said relative Wendy Mealer. "It was like they'd go in every time it would lightning outside."
But on Thursday, the family was grateful that Baker and her loved ones had survived a deadly tornado by huddling in the 8-foot by 10-foot shelter her dad built some 35 years ago.
The family owned three homes on property along Highway 140. All were destroyed. And on Thursday, they started the monstrous task of cleaning up and recovering items. They picked out pictures, scooped away rubble and carried away undamaged items like a mounted deer head.
"My family's safe," Baker said. "But it sinks in every so often. And I don't know exactly what I need to do. I've got piles here and piles there. It just becomes so overwhelming."
The suspected tornado, as of Thursday evening still not categorized by the National Weather Service, overturned cars on Interstate 75 and left hundreds of homes and businesses with varying degrees of damage in Bartow and Gordon counties. A 51-year-old Adairsville man was killed when a tree toppled onto his mobile home, according to The Associated Press.
Groups have opened shelters in Adairsville and Calhoun, Ga. By Thursday afternoon, Adairsville was flooded with insurance companies, utility workers and news crews surveying the damage.
As many as 14,000 Georgians were without power immediately after the storm, which left more than 100 broken utility poles in Gordon County alone, officials said. Thousands had power turned on by late Thursday, though the North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation reported that repair efforts were hampered by extreme congestion in the destruction area.
In Gordon County, eight people sustained injuries and two were airlifted to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga for treatment, sheriff's office Chief Deputy Robert Paris said.
Paris said the destruction was widespread. Several people were trapped in wreckage and had to be rescued by deputies and firefighters, he said
"It was terrible," he said. "The number of homes damaged or destroyed was probably in the hundreds."
Students at Sonoraville High School watched as the tornado came less than a mile from the school outside of Calhoun.
Paris said the twister's path matched that of a Dec. 22, 2011, tornado that locals nicknamed the "Christmas tornado."
"[Wednesday's] tornado followed almost exactly the identical track," he said.
Staff writer Tim Omarzu contributed to this story.