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Irma storms into Hall County Monday evening
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A tree rests on the roof of a house at 109 Hickory St. Monday afternoon as Irma storms through the area. - photo by Scott Rogers

More than 40,000 customers were without power overnight and a large but unknown number of roads were blocked by fallen trees in Hall County on Monday.

First responders, linemen and property owners had a rough go of it on Monday as Tropical Storm Irma passed over North Georgia, knocking out power for more than tens of thousands utility customers and causing substantial amounts of property damage throughout Hall County.

The worst power outages are expected to last several days and many roads in the county were expected to remain impassable through the night and Tuesday morning.

“We’re pleading with the public to stay off the roadways all together, just because conditions have worsened. We have trees going down in all areas. Lines are down … (and) traffic signals are not working,” Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said.

As wind picked up in the late morning and early afternoon, customers of Jackson Electric Membership Corp. and Georgia Power began losing power in clusters as trees fell on lines.

Outages started in Lula and South Hall, but by mid-afternoon they had spread to more than half of the city of Gainesville and to about 30 percent of Jackson EMC’s entire customer base of more than 220,000 people.

By 9 p.m. Monday, nearly 21,000 customers — almost half of Jackson EMC’s base in Hall County — were without power in the county.

By the same period, more than 20,600 Georgia Power customers were in the dark in Hall.

Jackson EMC spokeswoman April Sorrow said in a 6 p.m. announcement on Monday that “restoring outages in the areas with the worst damage (will) take several days.”

Hall County is the worst hit of the 10 counties served by Jackson EMC, Sorrow said.
Most of the outages that had already struck by nightfall were likely persist through the night.

Sorrow said high winds were in the forecast until 3 a.m., and those winds were keeping linemen from using the bucket trucks they need to perform many of their repairs.

“It’s very serious. With any storm, we try to prepare as well as we can, but we can’t prevent (damage),” Sorrow said. “... Because this was a wind incident and a tree incident, there’s so much work that needs to be done to get to the lines.”

The company was experiencing 1,747 individual outages affecting 66,717 customers systemwide when the notice went out. Jackson EMC had 338 people working in the field on Monday and another 150 contractors coming from Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Minnesota to help with power restoration.

Power was lost to many intersections around Gainesville, forcing the Gainesville Police Department to send officers to direct traffic on Jesse Jewell Parkway and other major roads.

Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Stephen Wilbanks said the county is dealing with “well over 100” trees down on roadways.

“The radio traffic has been nonstop,” Wilbanks said. “(First responders are) having to fight for air time just to communicate with the dispatchers.”

Many deputies carried their own chain saws to work with them Monday, Wilbanks said, and they were helping to clear roads of downed trees.

Even with all hands on deck, many roads in the county will be blocked for an undetermined period of time. Wilbanks said to expect traffic delays, detours or complete blockages while traveling through the county during the night and Tuesday morning.

Blockages are “countywide,” Wilbanks said, but East Hall has had a particular problem with trees falling on roadways. The priority will be to clear main arteries of traffic in the county.

“They’re going to be working through the night, no question about it,” Wilbanks said.

Damage and losses of power peaked around 5 p.m., when storm gusts blew beyond 50 mph and sustained winds stayed between 30 and 40 mph. No tornadoes were reported during the day Monday.

During this period, at least dozens of trees fell throughout the county. Trees dragging down power lines were the top cause of outages on Monday, and in some cases they landed on homes and other structures.

Though Gainesville police had numerous calls come in for trees falling on houses, Holbrook said no injuries had been reported to his department.

One person was killed Monday late afternoon after a tree downed by winds from now-Tropical Storm Irma fell on her vehicle as she and her husband pulled into their North Forsyth driveway.

Forsyth County firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and paramedics responded to the “private driveway” near Shadburn Road shortly after 6 p.m. Monday, according to Deputy Doug Rainwater, a spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

“We diligently tried to rescue the female inside with personnel using chainsaws and the ‘jaws of life,’ [however] she died at the scene from her injuries from the tree striking her vehicle.

“Her husband was in the driver’s seat of the car and was checked (for injury) by fire personnel and EMTs, but he was not transported (to a hospital).”

Rainwater said the sheriff’s office is not releasing the names of those involved until family and friends are notified.

Hall County and city fire departments worked with a consolidated emergency response center led by David Kimbrell, director of the Hall County Emergency Management Agency.

Firefighters, utility companies, public works staff and road crews responded to tree falls based on priority: Most important are falls that put life at risk, then those that have fallen into a power line and finally trees than have blocked a roadway.

Damage assessments are set to be done after the storm clears and cleanup has made significant progress on Tuesday. Kimbrell said the forecast from the National Weather Service called for the storm to begin fading at 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Chicopee Village alone saw at least seven of its large water oak trees fall, and three of them fell on buildings, according to village resident Allison Bailey. A sizable tree fell on the Chicopee Baptist Church office and another two fell on homes in the village.

Gillsville Highway and Poplar Springs Road were two other problem areas for road crews, as

both saw trees claim power lines and block traffic for long stretches Monday.


Previous updates

8:50 p.m. —

Ga. 53 is blocked by a tree between Anderson Lake and Blue Ridge Overlook roads in Dawsonville.

8:24 p.m. —

A female was killed Monday after a tree downed by winds from Tropical Storm Irma fell on her vehicle as she and her husband pulled into their north Forsyth driveway. Forsyth County firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and paramedics responded to the “private driveway” near Shadburn Road shortly after 6 p.m., according to Deputy Doug Rainwater, a spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

6:24 p.m. —

Jackson EMC reported that 16,076 were without power in Hall County as of about 6 p.m. Georgia Power reported 17,164 without power, which is more than half of its customers. 

Restoring outages in the areas with the worst damage could "take several days," according to a news release from Jackson EMC's spokeswoman April Sorrow.

Most outages were caused by trees falling into power lines.  

5:30 p.m. —

More roadway cautions from law enforcement:

  • Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway at Stillwater Lane
  • Stephens Road near the bridge
  • Old Cornelia Road at Poole Circle

"At some point during all of this, we're likely to just say we're closed. Hall County. All of it," the Hall County Sheriff's Office posted on social media.

5:10 p.m. —

The Hall County Sheriff's Office is asking drivers to stay away from:

  • Yellow Creek Road
  • Mount Vernon Road near Shirley Road
  • U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway at Sutton Road
  • McEver Road near the bridge
  • Old Cornelia Highway at Dana Drive
  • The 1300 block of Candler Road, near Simpson Trucking and Grading

4:45 p.m. — 

Emergency Management Agency Director David Kimbrell said there are at least 25 trees down that have not caused significant damage and crews are prioritizing their responses.

Law enforcement is advising people stay away from Spring at Skelton roads. There are also multiple trees down and entangled in power lines at Gillsville Highway at East Hall Road.

4:00 p.m. — 

About 6,800 are without power in Hall County.

Gainesville Police spokesman Kevin Holbrook said all traffic signals without power should be treated as four-way stops.

Trees are down in the areas of East Hall Road at Gillsville Highway, Hog Mountain at Wade Orr roads and the 4700 block of Strickland Road, according to authorities. The Hall County Sheriff's Office also advises avoiding Sherman Allen at Walnut Bend Drive and Cagle Road at Ga. 52.

Gainesville and Hall have canceled school for Tuesday.

3:06 p.m. —

A tree is in the roadway on Interstate 985 southbound near mile marker eight, according to the Hall County Sheriff's Office. Expect delays.

2:30 p.m. —

About 2,500 customers remain without power in Hall County between both Jackson Electric Membership Corp. and Georgia Power.

A large, 1,000-customer outage covering almost all of Lula has been cleared by Georgia Power, according to Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin, but the power outage still showed on the company’s outage map.

“If it’s your power, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 or 1,100” people affected, Bergin said.

Meanwhile, Jackson EMC outages have been growing through the afternoon. As wind speeds have picked up, its 10-county service area now has almost 12,000 customers without power.

The power company has been clearing outages in Hall County through the afternoon, dropping the number of those without power from 4,000 to about 1,750 customers by 2:30 p.m.

In Hall County, road crews have been busy clearing downed trees and power lines from neighborhoods and roads throughout the county.

Bergin said he was worried that wind would pick up in East Hall through the evening and cause more power outages in the area.

1:15 p.m. —

More than 3,000 properties are without electricity in Hall County, according to Jackson Electric Membership Corp. and Georgia Power.

Jackson EMC is dealing with clusters of outages affecting more than 4,000 people throughout its 10-county service area. More than 1,000 Georgia Power customers are without power in an outage on the East Hall line near Cornelia Highway.

Local emergency response organizations have responded to numerous calls of fallen trees and downed power lines through the county.

Jackson EMC spokeswoman April Sorrow said the company is feeling the brunt of the first band of rough weather moving north through the state. More bands of high winds are coming.

Earlier:

Tropical storm-force winds remain in the forecast from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning in Hall County.

Peak sustained winds will blow from 30 to 40 mph and gust up to 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service forecast.

Tornadoes are unlikely today, according to the NWS, though thunderstorms related to the remnants of Hurricane Irma might churn up during the day and evening.

A flash flood watch is in effect until 8 a.m. Tuesday, and the tropical storm is expected to drop 2 to 4 inches of rain in the area. Forecasters report only minor risks of flooding in Hall County.

Georgia Power and Jackson Electric Membership Corp. outages are popping up throughout Gainesville and the county.

In Jackson EMC’s 10-county service area, more than 4,000 people are now without power. The company serves more than 220,000 people in the area.

Jackson EMC spokeswoman April Sorrow said the company is feeling the brunt of the first band of rough weather moving north through the state. More bands of high winds are coming.

More than 1,000 Georgia Power customers are without power in an outage on the East Hall line near Cornelia Highway. There’s no estimated time when power will be restored.

The Northeast Georgia Health System’s hospital campuses and its urgent care clinics are operating on normal hours today, but some of its other locations are closing at noon. Urgent care clinics will be open until 8 p.m.

The Gainesville-based hospital can receive up to 16 patients and five infants in neonatal intensive care units displaced by Hurricane Irma, according to Matthew Crumpton, the system’s manager for emergency preparedness. However, no patients have been transferred into the system, as they found hospitals closer to the Georgia coast.

All hospital campuses have generators and can function normally should power fail, said system spokeswoman Beth Downs.


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