It was less than two years ago that Blake Swafford was opening the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport near the town of Dallas, Ga. Now, he’s picking up the pieces after the field was devastated by a tornado March 2.
Swafford, bleary-eyed and obviously exhausted, was forced to abandon the airport about 1 a.m. March 3 because of several fuel spills emanating from damaged aircraft and the airport’s fuel farm.
He described the damage as “very significant. All the aircraft that were on the apron are upside down and strewn about. The hangar looks to be pretty much completely destroyed.”
Swafford said up to 90 percent of the aircraft on the field were damaged by the tornado, which was later rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service. Winds were estimated at 165 miles per hour.
That same tornado tore a 29-mile path across the northern Atlanta suburbs late March 2, killing one person.
Paulding County is the first new airport built in Georgia in more than 30 years. Located approximately 30 miles from downtown Atlanta, it provides a cost-effective alternative to some of the Atlanta area’s more congested airports. While Swafford said other airports are running out of room to grow, Paulding County is surrounded by wide open spaces that he believes make it attractive to business and general aviation interests worldwide.
The direct hit from a tornado came less than two weeks after a hangar collapsed while under construction at Paulding County. One person was killed in the collapse. Another was seriously hurt.
“Right now, from what we can tell, all the fencing is damaged. All of the light posts are damaged. Basically, everything is damaged. We’re going to be a very, very long time cleaning up a huge mess and starting over to a large extent.”
The airport is currently closed until further notice. While Swafford didn’t have an estimate of damages from the tornado, he said it could well run into the millions of dollars.