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Irma set to storm through Hall County on Monday
State prepares for tropical storm conditions Monday
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Alecia Hedden bags her groceries Sunday afternoon at The Market on Limestone. The coming storm has area supermarkets busy with customers. - photo by Scott Rogers

The tropical storm effects of Hurricane Irma — mostly heavy rain and high winds — could pass through the Hall County area Monday.

Residents got a taste of the approaching storm as winds started picking up Sunday afternoon.

“Efforts should now be underway to secure all properties,” according to the tropical storm watch issued Sunday by the National Weather Service based in Peachtree City.

But those breezes could pale to what may hit the area Monday: sustained winds up to 32 mph and gusts up to 55 mph, said David Kimbrell, Hall’s emergency management director.

The “wind speed will diminish overnight Monday into Tuesday morning,” Kimbrell said.

tropical storm warning went into effect for the area just after midnight.

Overall, rainfall of 3-5 inches is expected but could be higher “in some of the bands of the storm,” he said.

“The biggest threat will be trees and power lines down and widespread power outages.”

April Sorrow, spokeswoman for Jackson Electric Membership Corp., said outages have already started — 130 on Sunday.

“Every employee is on call and ready to respond,” she said.

The utility has 118 full-time linemen and 200 contractors “ready to assist when and if needed,” Sorrow said. “As the situation continues to develop, we will ask for additional help from contractors or other electric cooperatives if needed.”

Basically, tropical storm conditions are possible Monday, according to the weather service.

But the good news is there is “little to no potential impacts from tornadoes.”

On Sunday, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered a state of emergency for all Georgia counties.

The declaration was made “acting on a recommendation from the state’s Emergency Operations Command and ahead of heavy rains, strong wind and potential flooding from Hurricane Irma,” according to a Sunday press release from Deal’s office.

“Due to the size of the storm, all of Georgia may potentially be impacted, regardless of Hurricane Irma’s exact track,” Deal’s executive order states.

Deal goes on to say that the state’s “network of rural roads may be rendered impassable … isolating residences and farms from access to essential public services.”

Getting ready for Irma

For emergency kit information, visit ready.hallcounty.org; emergency weather alerts, sign up at hallcounty.org. Hall County will start up the emergency operations center in the morning to manage any storm-related issues, Kimbrell said.

The rush was on this weekend by residents to pick up last-minute supplies, including water, batteries and nonperishable foods.

“We’ve got a booming business,” said Travis Long, assistant store director of The Market on Limestone grocery store on Limestone Parkway in Gainesville. “We’ve got plenty of new faces — out-of-towners. And everybody is buying pretty much everything.

“They’re shopping as if it’s regular groceries, for the most. We are selling a ton of water, of course.”

Brian Ridling, manager of Lakeside Home and Hardware off Thompson Bridge Road in North Hall, said customers have been busy buying chain saws, ice, lamp oil, batteries and flashlights.

“They’re also looking for generators, but I guess nobody has any generators,” he said.

Jessica Miller, director of sales at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Flowery Branch, said a lot of Florida residents have checked in since the middle of last week.

The hotel has relaxed its no-pets policy to accommodate evacuees.

In addition to dogs, “I’ve got turtles, hamsters and cats, and I’m sure there’s other (animals) I don’t know about,” Miller said with a laugh. “Everybody has been super gracious and so nice. It’s been good.”

A lot of the patrons are new to the area — people who weren’t able to get a room in Atlanta. Others have family nearby.

“I’ve seen people who have driven 24 hours straight,” Miller said.

“For the most part, people just camp out in our lobby. We all watch the Weather Channel together.”

One of those staying at the hotel is Tom Knafel of Cape Coral, Fla., which is on the state’s southwest coast near Fort Myers.

He said that some of his family had planned to travel to Flowery Branch because they had relatives in the area.

“They ended up staying in Cape Coral, but my wife and mother-in-law wanted to leave,” he said.

Knafel was he was familiar with the area already.

“I have been through this area before, on my way to a family cabin in Maggie Valley (N.C.).”

He left Cape Coral early Thursday and arrived late in the day.

“It should have been a 9-hour drive. It took us 16½,” Knafel said, adding, “we were fortunate in our ability to get gas on our way up here.”

“This hotel now looks like a Florida refugee camp, with Floridians and their dogs,” he added.

The experience so far has been good, considering the circumstances.

“We are exceedingly impressed by this hotel. … Everybody we’ve encountered in Georgia has been absolutely wonderful to us,” Knafel said.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her agency has been working all week with the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Emergency Management Agency to help evacuees with accommodations.

“Last time I checked, we were over 95 percent occupied countywide,” she said.

“We have several group meetings and events (that) have decided to continue their plans and some others who have canceled or postponed,” Dickson added. “Evacuees have taken the rooms they have vacated.”

First Baptist Church at 751 Green St. in Gainesville has opened as an American Red Cross shelter for evacuees, with the agency asking those who showed up to be there before 8 p.m. Sunday with all the food, drink, medical and bedding supplies they needed for three days.

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