It looks like Douglas County dodged the bullet from the effects of monster storm Hurricane Irma’s trek inland over the last three days.
“We are probably one of the luckiest counties in the area,” said Jason Milhollin, director of emergency management for Douglas County. “South Fulton and Fayette County got slammed.”
Douglas County spokesman Wes Tallon said Tuesday that due to the storm track staying farther south, the effects on Douglas County were not as bad as they could have been.
He said that throughout the storm, the Emergency Operations Center received reports of downed trees and power outages, which were almost all quickly addressed by the Douglas County Fire Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Douglasville Police Department, Douglas County Department of Transportation and the Douglasville Department of Maintenance and Sanitation.
“Most of the trees down that were reported were affecting power lines,” Tallon said.
Meteorologist Chris Robbins, a Douglas County native who posts forecasts on iWeatherNet.com, said he expected it to be a “heavy rain event" with gusts higher than 50 mph possible. That’s what the area saw, he said, pointing out that Atlanta’s rainfall record for Sept. 11 of 1.94 inches set in 1944 was broken, with 3.62 inches recorded Monday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He added that the Atlanta airport recorded a peak wind gust of 61 mph Monday.
Robbins said the cold front that came through last week produced a “stable airmass” that prevented thunderstorms from developing as Irma hit metro Atlanta.
Robbins said Tropical Storm Irma was downgraded to a tropical depression at 11 p.m. Monday near Columbus.
“As often happens, the core of strongest winds broke away from the storm's center of circulation,” Robbins told the Sentinel Tuesday. “When Irma was near Valdosta yesterday afternoon, the strongest winds were approaching Atlanta.”
According to Lyndsey Sargent, communications coordinator for the Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority, 4.6 inches of rain was recorded Monday in Douglas County — nearly an inch more than was recorded to our east in Atlanta — and 0.3 inches was recorded early Tuesday.
There were about 20 instances of downed trees were reported, Tallon said, but downed trees in residential yards that did not affect a house or power lines were not counted in the total.
Power outages affected traffic signals which caused about a dozen signals to either go dark or to flashing lights, according to Tallon.
When power was restored — which was done fairly quickly given the conditions in which the linemen had to work — the traffic signals went back to flashing red in all directions which functioned as a four-way stop.
The flashing lights were re-set early Tuesday morning before the rush hour began.
GreyStone Power reported a 2 percent power outage as of early Tuesday morning, according to Vicki Harshbarger, public relations and communications manager.
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, Harshbarger reported only eight GreyStone customers were without power.
“At the height of the storm we had 6,000 out throughout the whole system,” she said. “We believe the most we had out in Douglas at any time was about 1,700.”
“We consider ourselves very fortunate, considering co-ops all around us have massive outages. Some of the relatively quick restoration in many cases is due to advanced switching techniques where electricity is routed to a different electricity source, and excellent right of way trimming practices,” Harshbarger said.
She reported that may be another story with saturated ground and flooding occurring, especially at Sweetwater Creek.
“Members should watch for flooding, falling limbs and trees, avoid downed power lines and stay at home off the roads as much as possible,” Harshbarger said regarding Monday’s aftermath.
“Linemen and others are working in very adverse conditions to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. But in these conditions, what is restored may fall again. We appreciate your patience.”
As of 8 p.m. Monday, Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) reported approximately 537,000 customers without power, up from 375,000 Monday afternoon. The day started with 31,000 outages in south and southeast Georgia, but EMC representatives warned that numbers would increase as the effects of Hurricane Irma pummeled the state.
Tallon said the linemen from Greystone Power and Georgia Power addressed every power outage as quickly as possible. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Fire/EMS, DOT, city police, city Maintenance and Sanitation, and supporting staffs worked in the rain and wind to remove downed trees and work traffic accidents.
There were only about three storm-related traffic accidents Tallon said he was aware of.
Sweetwater Creek was under a flood warning for part of the day Tuesday, but the warning was canceled later in the day. However, there was some temporary flooding in low-lying areas near Sweetwater Creek, at Woodrow Wilson Park in Lithia Springs and at Old Alabama Road, said Milhollin.
Four people took advantage of the shelter at Douglasville First United Methodist Church. One person was a transient coming through Douglas County and didn’t have a place to go and couldn’t find a hotel. Three others were homeless, said Milhollin.
He said that Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members were used to staff the shelter and that church members brought food and snacks to those staying in the shelter.
“We are grateful to Associate Pastor Heather Jallad and the church staff and volunteers for their willingness to do this for the community,” Milhollin said.
Winds were estimated to have reached gusts of upwards of 35 to 40 mph in Douglas County during some of the heavier bands with sustained wind most of the day at around 10 mph, according to Milhollin.
Douglas County Emergency Management, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Douglas County Fire/EMS continued monitoring flood-prone areas Tuesday, with plans to block off motorists from entering roadways when appropriate.
Maj. J.R. Davidson with the Douglasville Police Department reported that there were a handful of downed trees in the city but none blocked any roads. He said the Douglasville Police Department did not respond to any emergency calls regarding the storm and there are no reported injuries or property damage that they have been made aware of.
Students and employees will go back to school today after an unscheduled two days off due to Hurricane Irma, but only for a half-day, which was already scheduled on the school system’s adopted calendar.
Elementary students will be released at 11:30 am. Middle and high schools will release buses when elementary routes are completed, according to Karen Stroud, director of communications and community relations for the school system
All Douglas County School System facilities have been inspected in the aftermath of the storm, and are ready for students and staff to return this morning, she said.
Sentinel editor Ron Daniel and staff writer Rashad Milligan contributed to this report.