Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Hulon Garmon walks away from an oak tree that fell in his front yard due to a thunderstorm that came through Doraville and the Norcross area on Thursday evening. Garmon, who has lived in the area for the past 38 years, measured the root base of the oak tree at 19 feet by 16 feet.
Clean up after storm in the Norcross area
Locals deal with damage caused by a thunder storm that came through the Norcross area on Thursday evening.
DORAVILLE -- In his four decades living on Oak Road, Hulon Garmon would never have guessed that anything could fell the 160-year-old hardwood in his front yard.
Not that it was impossible, mind you. It's just that the mammoth red oak -- with its generous shade in the summertime, its healthy green foliage, its vitality -- was a fixture of his life.
"It's too bad," said Garmon, who walked through his yard Friday afternoon, taking stock of the fallen tree. It had grown to a height of 60 feet before strong winds and wet soil conspired to bring it crashing to the ground Thursday night, collapsing a portion of chain-length fence that surrounded the Garmon family's yard. "We'll miss the tree, but God was absolutely looking out for us (Thursday) night."
Garmon's nearby neighbors on Oak Road and surrounding streets expressed similar gratitude. His next door neighbors, the Mares family, were glad that nobody got hurt. Victoria Mares, who spoke little English, explained with her daughter interpreting that "it sounded like an explosion" when the big oak hit the ground.
It was around 8 p.m., about the same time when across-the-road-neighbor John Delgado heard it, "but felt it more than heard it."
Delgado was taking shelter in the bath tub, the safest place in his home, when he "felt the tub vibrate."
"When I finally saw the tree and how close it was, I was just amazed," he said. "It was so close. I'm glad nobody got hurt."
According to Cpl. Jake Smith with Gwinnett County Police no serious injuries were reported as a result of Thursday night's storms. But the aftermath on Oak Road (an area located between Norcross and Doraville) included "downed trees and power lines, power outages and damaged street sign and traffic signals."
Lt. Colin S. Rhoden with Gwinnett County Fire said the department received several storm related calls including instances of a tree on fire near Tom Smith Road in Snellville, a tree that fell on a building in Doraville and power lines down all over the county.
The snapped power lines on Oak Road were draped across low-lying limbs, coiled in driveways. Officials wrapped street signs with caution tape where the damage prevented safe passage.
Some stopped their cars in the middle of the road, getting out to limbo their way beneath the yellow tape and have a look.
Barbara Proud ventured to the border of the Garmons' front yard, taking a photo of the uprooted oak tree. Proud and Paula Boggess drove from their Franklin County homes to see with their own eyes what had been circulating on Facebook posts all night and morning.
Both women used to live in the neighborhood and "couldn't believe" what they were seeing on the social media site. Upon arrival in their old neighborhood, it was still very surreal.
"It's crazy," Proud said. "We had to come out here, because we were worried. We still have friends who live here."
Boggess said she "can't remember anything like this ever happening when we used to live here."
The storm damage seen by residents near Oak Road was fairly typical, said Chuck Maxey with the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation. Maxey supervised as crews chainsawed through fallen trees all around the Norcross neighborhood.
"The winds blowing hard and all this rain weakens the root systems," Maxey said.
Garmon said he figured that's probably what happened. As it toppled over Thursday night, the red oak took with it a disc of muddy red earth: 19 feet by 16 feet. Garmon measured it himself.
As to the chain-length fence crushed beneath it, Garmon said he's "got a son-in-law. No, two son-in-laws that can fix that." And he's going to get some dirt to fill in the crater left in the great oak's wake.
He's sad for the loss of the big tree. Its trunk was once his daughter's favorite hide-and-go-seek spot. He recalled it with a smile.
Garmon ran his fingers along the rough bark Friday afternoon, nodding his head. "If the wind had gone and blown this tree the other way, we wouldn't have been here today," he said. "We would have been in God's hands instead of standing here talking about it."