CORNELIA — Dealing with power outages has been the biggest obstacle to date in getting Georgia back to normalcy after its close encounter with Hurricane Irma, Gov. Nathan Deal said Thursday.
Deal made his comments following a morning stop at the Habersham County Airport in Cornelia, the first of several during an aerial tour to survey damage in north and coastal Georgia.
“The biggest problem we have is outages of power and the inability in some cases to get traffic through because down power lines still exist,” Deal said, surrounded by reporters and photographers on the tarmac.
The governor said power companies are “working extremely hard” with out-of-state assistance to help Georgia “at a time of disaster.”
Deal called for patience as crews work to restore power.
“Some of the lines are not going be restored as fast as you’d like them to be, but you have every assurance that the utilities are working around the clock literally to restore power to everybody,” Deal said.
The governor said a dollar-amount assessment of the damage statewide remains to be determined. He said it’s too early for that, and it is getting done at the county level.
Deal had good things to say about the federal response. He said personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were in the state even before the storm hit.
“Everything from the president calling me personally a couple of days ago and the national FEMA director has also talked to me personally,” Deal said. “They have their personnel scattered throughout our state, and there again, it is a scattered effect from this hurricane. It’s literally all over the state.”
Deal said his request has been granted for emergency public assistance at the federal level. He said the process requires that local jurisdictions keep a tally of the amount of damage they have suffered and submit the appropriate application for reimbursement of funding.
Deal said his administration also made a request for assistance to individuals, which he said has been granted for the coastal areas.
“That requires an assessment and an accumulation of a dollar amount of damage in order for that individual assistance to be granted,” Deal said.
As for agricultural losses, Deal said Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is getting reports from his people around the state.
“It appears that there are damages to things like pecan trees that have either been blown down or the nuts have been blown off the trees prematurely,” Deal said. “There’s been damage to cotton crops that still have not been picked yet.”
Deal said he expects former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is now U.S. secretary of agriculture, will likely visit the state Friday.
“They will be doing a more extensive look as to the damage to agriculture,” Deal said.
Deal got a firsthand look at the damage inflicted in Glynn County, where between 500 and 700 homes flooded, many of them on St. Simons Island, as Irma crossed southwest Georgia on Monday as a weakened tropical storm more than 100 miles inland.
Uprooted trees and shattered limbs still littered roads and yards Thursday, both on the island and the port city of Brunswick on the mainland. Like other communities in coastal Georgia, Glynn County not long ago finished cleanup efforts after Hurricane Matthew raked the area last October.
“You had two hurricanes in such a short time, I’m sure these local officials will tell you they can use that money very well to do other things,” Deal told reporters during a news conference at the Brunswick airport.
The governor’s itinerary also included a final stop at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport as part of his aerial tour of the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.