Lights are coming back on across storm-struck Hall County after tens of thousands of people went more than two days without power.
In the city of Gainesville, more than 1,500 Georgia Power customers had no power at 9 a.m. Thursday, down from 3,300 at 10 p.m. Wednesday and 12,000 a day earlier. More than half of the city lost power during the storm.
Georgia Power serves all of the city and parts of the county, while Jackson EMC serves Hall County. Jackson EMC spokesman Mark Owen said Wednesday that the “vast majority” of the company’s outages would be cleared by midnight Wednesday.
By 8 a.m., more than 4,700 Jackson EMC customers in Hall remained without power and 8.500 around the region, down to about 4 percent of those served. Wednesday night, the cooperative identified 59 broken poles in Hall County and 148 broken poles throughout its 10-county service area.
It takes about four hours to replace a damaged pole.
The power outages again led schools in Hall County and Gainesville to close for a fourth day Thursday as many remain in the dark (complete closings list).
Hall remains a problem area for Jackson EMC and Georgia Power as the rest of the state comes back online. At its height, 115,209 Jackson EMC customers were without power throughout its system. Hall County hit a peak of 45,531 customers without power from Jackson EMC.
The city of Gainesville had some of the most widespread outages remaining in Georgia Power’s statewide network Wednesday.
With its statewide footprint and resources focused on the southern end of the state, Georgia Power made little progress up to Wednesday on restoring electricity in the city since Tropical Storm Irma struck Monday, uprooting thousands of trees and dropping even more people into darkness.
In the Lula area, almost all of Georgia Power’s customers remained without power Wednesday. In the Candler area and northward, about half of Georgia Power customers had no power. Along Dawsonville and Cleveland highways in West Hall and North Hall, more than 60 percent of the company’s customers still didn’t have power.
More than 6,000 customers of Georgia Power remained without power in the Buford area at the south end of Lake Lanier at the end of the workday Wednesday.
Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey said Wednesday morning that Gainesville Public Works crews had been unable to remove just about any of the trees that had taken down power lines in city limits because they had not been cleared by Georgia Power.
Trees that fall on power lines cannot be touched by city employees until Georgia Power certifies that the lines aren’t live with electricity. Without equipment in the area, lines weren’t being certified as dead and trees remained blocking roads and sitting on power lines.
However, Lackey said the city had received word that the power company would have equipment rolling in the city Wednesday. Progress was indeed being made midweek, as customers without power fell from more than 10,000 to about 3,500 through the day on Wednesday, according to the Georgia Power outage map.
A Georgia Power statement on Wednesday said 95 percent of its customers would be back online by Sunday. The company also said estimated restoration times for specific areas would be available Thursday.
Jackson EMC had called in contractors from throughout the country and the state to help repair lines in its service area.
A crew from Douglasville-based GreyStone Power Corp. worked near Flowery Branch and Oakwood on Wednesday, repairing destroyed poles near Cash Road and others.
The crew of about a half-dozen men worked with two bucket trucks to tear down damaged poles and replace them with fresh equipment — a laborious process even in the best of conditions.
And linemen haven’t had the best of conditions this week. Work was slowed Monday and Tuesday because of high winds, and the bucket trucks needed to install power cables and transformers aren’t rated to handle gusts of more than 35 mph, according to Owen.
The GreyStone crew was one of hundreds working throughout Hall County. Jackson EMC had a workforce of more than 750 on Wednesday, an increase of several hundred from the beginning of the week.
Workers include regular employees, Georgia linemen and contractors from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota.
Estimating how many people outages have affected has been difficult, as power customers include everything from homes to businesses to individual chicken coops, according to Jackson EMC spokeswoman April Sorrow. The average Hall County household includes three people, and as of 2016 there were almost 62,000 households in the county.