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Thousands without power, roads blocked as storm brings high winds, rain
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A large tree at 403 Green St. fell into Southern Realty's property during storms on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

Updated at 12:55 p.m., Oct. 30: Hall County is reeling from thousands of power outages and blocked roads due to downed power lines and trees, after the remnants of Hurricane Zeta, now a tropical storm, blasted through Northeast Georgia early Thursday morning.  

In Gwinnett, two people were found dead in a Buford home after a tree pinned them in their bed. Hall County Emergency Management Director Casey Ramsey said there have been some minor injuries associated with trees falling on either homes or vehicles in the roadway. He did not have specific numbers on injury reports. 

He said damages were reported across the county.

“It’s pretty much widespread,” Casey Ramsey, Hall County’s Emergency Management Agency director, said Thursday morning. “We have multiple locations with trees crossing the road, trees in power lines. Our bigger issue is we can’t remove trees until the power is secured. And until the wind gusts subside, for (utility workers’) safety and our safety as well, they’re not putting buckets in the air. So, a lot of roads will remain closed until we get the power secured.”  

Jackson EMC reported 4,231 total customers affected by outages at 12:55 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30, down from more than 50,000 Thursday at 7 a.m. In Hall County 3,202 remained without power as of 12:55 p.m. Friday.

Also as of 12:55 p.m. Friday, nearly 182,000 Georgia Power customers were without power, 6,845 of those customers in Hall. Sawnee EMC reported a total 4,315 customers without power as of 12:55 p.m. Friday, with 493 of those customers in Hall.

Initial outage reports from Thursday morning represented 42% of Jackson customers in Hall, 55% of Georgia Power customers in Hall and 61% of Sawnee customers in Hall affected. 

"High winds and gusts have caused a significant number of trees and limbs to fall on power lines, resulting in power outages," an Oct. 29 news release from Jackson EMC said. 

John Kraft, a spokesman for Georgia Power added Thursday afternoon that power companies urge residents not to touch any wires they may see hanging or lying loose, as a live wire looks just like a dead wire and could cause serious injury. 

The outages also affected traffic lights at area intersections. Transportation officials say motorists should treat malfunctioning traffic lights as a four-way stop until they begin operating normally. Meanwhile, Hall County and the city of Gainesville are still addressing dozens of road closures

The Georgia Department of Transportation also said crews went out to assess state highways and interstates on Thursday morning.

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said late Thursday morning there were "over 200 areas on the roadways that need to be addressed." Those areas were affected by downed trees or powerlines or a combination of the two, she said. The power line issues must involve power companies, which can delay fixes, she added. However, she said, county officials say most of the issues should be remedied by the end of the day.  

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A large tree at 403 Green St. fell into Southern Realty's property during storms on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. - photo by Shannon Casas

Teresa Kinsey, agency claims manager with Turner, Wood & Smith Insurance, said her office in Gainesville started receiving calls about storm damage before the business opened Thursday morning. 

“There’s two of us that help customers with claims, and we’ve been on the phone all day,” Kinsey said that morning. “There’s a lot of trees on homes, out buildings and some down on cars.” 

One of the historic homes turned offices on Green Street was covered in tree branches after a massive tree fell from 403 Green St. into the Southern Realty of North Georgia property next door.   

Bill D’entremont said it wasn’t as bad as it looked from the outside, standing in the front yard of his wife’s law practice, Inez Grant Gillsville Law LLC, where the century-old tree had fallen. The tree top and branches filled the front yard of the Southern Realty property at 411 Green St. and did some damage to the office.   

No one was injured, and D’entremont said it didn’t break a single window.   

His wife, Inez Grant, was at home, but he sent her pictures.   

It was “one of the prettiest trees on Green Street,” he said.   

D’entremont called his neighbor about 8:35 a.m. to share the bad news, Chris Slate, managing broker of Southern Realty said.  

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A large tree at 403 Green St. fell into Southern Realty's property during storms on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. - photo by Shannon Casas

Slate said the tree demolished the front porch, damaged part of the roof and caused structural damage.  

“What was really amazing is every place with a cross hanging up, it did no damage,” Slate said. “The tree went through the building, and all the walls are protected where the crosses are. Not one window was broken.”  

Because of the pandemic, Slate said her three-person staff has been working from home.  

“Thankfully nobody was hurt,” she said. “It’s a true blessing no one was in the building when it happened.”  

On Garden Boulevard off Thompson Bridge, a tree across the front of the neighborhood cut off about 60 homes. Jackson EMC was on site at about 9 a.m., but the road remained closed off.  

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A tree is down across Garden Boulevard off Thompson Bridge Road in North Hall following overnight storms Oct. 29, 2020. - photo by Shannon Casas

South Hall resident Brooke Harris said a tree fell on River Hill Drive near her home striking a mailbox but otherwise missing property and people. But a motorist headed up the street wasn't so fortunate, she said. 

"A neighbor's (car) windows were all fogged up, so he ran straight into the tree," Harris said, adding that while the car was damaged, the driver was OK. 

As for the tree, it otherwise didn't block the street very long, as Brooke's husband, Andy, and neighbors cut up the tree and removed it. 

"They all banded together, cut that thing up and hauled it out," she said. 

In North Hall, Kimberly Robinson said she and her husband were woken up at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday to the sound of a large tree falling on Robinson's car and porch of the home off Cool Springs Road. Robinson said she and her husband first checked on their 11-year-old son before her husband headed outside to assess the damage to their property. 

"He wouldn't even let me go outside the wind was so strong," Robinson recalled. "It was dark so, of course, he couldn't really see. He knew that it hit the car, but he didn't know the extent of the damage until the sun rose and we were able to walk outside." 

The car's front and back windshield were both broken out, and the roof of the vehicle had also been damaged. The porch of the home also took damage. An insurance assessment of the damages will take place in the next few days, she said. 

"I was in shock. We knew it was going to be bad, but we didn't know it was going to be that bad," Robinson said. "I was relieved that it wasn't our son, of course." 

Like Robinson, Michelle Torres' parents, Eduardo and Prisciliana Torres, woke up to a fallen tree in the front yard of their home off Lights Ferry Road near Flowery Branch. But this one was on fire, they said.

About 5 a.m. Thursday, Michelle Torres' mother woke up to "some cracking sounds."   

"When she looked outside, the tree had fallen and was caught in the (power lines), and it started to burn," Michelle Torres said. "Eventually, the rain put it out. That's when they saw (the tree) had knocked down the (lines) and everything with it."   

Her parents, otherwise, are doing well.   

"They were a little scared in the beginning, with the tree in flames," Michelle Torres said.   

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Michelle Torres' parents, Eduardo and Prisciliana Torres, woke up to a fallen, burning tree in the front yard of their off Lights Ferry Road home near Flowery Branch. - photo by Jeff Gill

Neighbors eventually helped cut up the tree and clear the driveway, which also serves another house. However, power hadn't been restored as of late Thursday afternoon, as power lines were still on the ground.   

North Georgia Wildlife Park in Cleveland also reported damage and power outages on Thursday afternoon. The park said staff was "working diligently to get this cleaned up," in a news release that included pictures of fallen trees lying across fences. 

"Some enclosures and fences were damaged, but all animals are safe," the release said. "We are in the process of setting the generators up. These will help keep the freezers going so we don’t incur large losses of supplies. We are also working to get the nursery generator and prep area generator going to help with diet and animal care." 

The zoo said if it could not restore power within 24 hours, it would need access to additional generators, as many animals need heat.  

The park said it is rare for its facility to experience a complete outage. "The last one was during Hurricane Irma," the news release says. 

North Georgia Wildlife Park said it is looking for volunteers to help with cleanup, and those interested can email hope@wildlifewonders.org or info@wildlifewonders.org. The park also said it will post on its social media asking locals for assistance getting the trees that have fallen cut up and removed. 

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North Georgia Wildlife Park in Cleveland reported damage and a power outage on Thursday afternoon, following storms related to Tropical Storm Zeta on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Photo courtesy of North Georgia Wildlife Park)

The damages and outages left behind by Zeta led some local schools to announce delays or remote classes on Wednesday. Many of those school systems, private schools, universities and other facilities chose to close and cancel classes altogether Thursday. 

Gainesville City Schools said its students would learn remotely on Thursday and announced there would be no class on Friday

Hall County School District spokesman Stan Lewis said Thursday morning the district's plans to hold remote school Thursday had not changed, but teachers were asked to be lenient with students unable to attend virtually due to power outages. Lewis said Thursday afternoon that the district would hold remote class on Friday, but would again be lenient with those who could not access the internet.

Times staff members Jeff Gill, Shannon Casas, Thomas Hartwell and Kelsey Podo contributed to this report. 

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North Georgia Wildlife Park in Cleveland reported damage and a power outage on Thursday afternoon, following storms related to Tropical Storm Zeta on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Photo courtesy of North Georgia Wildlife Park)
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