Prayers were answered for zookeepers at North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon.
As two large trees dangled dangerously close to power lines, the animal nursery at the zoo also hung in the balance before Alex’s Tree Service of Dahlonega was able to take down the trees.
Zoo staff members waited on pins and needles for Alex’s Tree Service to bring in a crane to remove the towering trees. But, zoo director and owner Hope Bennett pointed out that the tree service had been inundated with calls, too.
“He (was) in the middle of getting a tree off a house,” Bennett said.
“We then call(ed) the electrical company because if this tree comes down, it will not only take out part of the nursery, a fence, several cages but also a main power line.”
Zookeepers had already evacuated the nursery and adjoining pens just in case the buffer started giving way.
By late Wednesday afternoon, the crane had arrived and the process of removing the two large trees got underway. Bennett and the rest of the zookeepers were excited and relieved. Bennett said Alex’s Tree Service and Downy Trees of Cumming went out of their way to get the crane and make it happen as fast as possible.
“We are blessed with the community support we have seen and appreciate everyone’s prayers,” Bennett said.
After a week of rain from Hurricane Joaquin, the North Georgia area is still saturated. While power outages have been restored, Habersham EMC continued to be swamped with calls, mostly related to fallen trees.
According to its website, HEMC says that as of 5 p.m. Sunday, approximately 13,650 HEMC members were without power. Outages of varying sizes were scattered throughout HEMC’s six county service area.
Many of the outages require hours of work due to the replacement of broken poles and lines, further compounded by the heavy equipment needed to do these repairs becoming stuck in the saturated ground.
The zoo, however, went into emergency action during its three days without power. Bennett stated in a press release that the animals were safe as the zookeepers sped into action during the flooding.
“I am thankful we have an emergency plan in place for this. I admit we never had to use it in the 20 years of zoo life, but this past week we sure did,” said Bennett.
“As (zookeepers) feed, clean and help keep their animals dry, they will also watch for flooded areas, leaks and areas that may need to be evacuated or protected. Once it passes from normal rain to flood concerns evacuation plans are set into motion. Animals start to be moved to higher ground. This is where training is very vital.”
The zoo has back-up generators which are used to keep the nursery animals and reptiles warm and the freezers containing animal food cold. They also are used to help pump water to a holding tank. That water is then put into buckets and carried by hand to water troughs for the animals.
Once power was restored, cleanup began. The zookeepers and volunteers are working steadily to repair damage from the flooding to pens and mop up in outbuildings.
But the real danger still loomed.
“The ground had gotten soft and two giant trees (almost fell) onto the nursery building but (were) blocked by another tree,” Bennett said. “This one, I admit, we weren’t nearly as prepared for.”