THOMASVILLE — Crews are assessing how much damage Hurricane Michael did to Thomas County.
Chris Jones, Thomas County emergency management director, said there had not been any fatalities reported as a result of the storm.
Jones said at a Thursday afternoon briefing that as many as 18,000 meters showed no electrical service. As many as 13,000 Thomasville Utilities customers were without power at the height of the outage. Authorities reported approximately 2,000 Georgia Power customers lost service and more than 7,000 Grady EMC customers were without power.
Sarah Baggett, CNS marketing director, said the city is working as quickly as possible to restore power but it could take several days. There are mutual aid crews from north Georgia and Tennessee on their way to help.
“We cannot at this time offer individual estimates as to when your power will be restored,” she said. “This is going to be a long restoration process. You need to be prepared for several days without power.”
There also will be changes to the solid waste and landfill service schedules, which will be posted on the city’s website at thomasville.org.
On its Facebook page Grady EMC said many of the transmission lines that feed its substations have suffered substantial damages across multiple counties and said outage durations could last several days.
“The hurricane caused severe damage to this area and our entire system is out across all three counties,” Grady EMC said in a Facebook post. “Grady EMC crews along with 12 additional crews from Tennessee and Alabama and Pike contractors are hard are working now to restore power. There are more than 50 linemen currently at work. But because of the extensive damage, our members can expect and plan for long term damages. We are working with 911 and the County Road Departments to respond to all of the areas with damage but we ask everyone for their patience.”
Thomas County Public Works Director Tony Bodiford estimated between 500-600 trees were knocked down in the county but by 11 a.m. Thursday, 95 percent of the county’s paved roads were open to traffic. Jones said all of the roads were open by 3 p.m. Ninety-five percent of the dirt roads were passable.
“There is a ton of debris off the roads, in the ditches and in the rights-of-way,” he said.
Lower Cairo Road had been closed to traffic because of the trees and power lines that had been brought down.
Jones also cautioned that trees could still fall on roads in the next few days.
At least two homes along Patterson Still Road had been hit by falling trees.
Jones said the damage assessment process is ongoing and authorities are looking at homes and at infrastructure such as roads and power lines.
Gary Spikes had a large oak tree brought down in his front yard around 10 p.m. Wednesday, and a smaller tree, planted in honor of this daughter, also was felled by the storm’s winds.
“My wife was standing at the window and said everything is fine,” he said. “She walked away and turned around and there it was. It was that quick.”
Spikes and his neighbors along the other end of Patterson Still Road gathered Wednesday morning to check on each other and survey any possible damage. They were without power as they talked.
“That’s the way it goes,” said Spikes, who spent 32 years working on a utility line crew.
Sheryl Sealy of the City of Thomasville said there were between 200-300 trees down in the city and about 90 percent of the city’s utility system has been affected.
“Our utilities system has suffered significant damage,” she said. “We have crews through mutual aid coming in and they will be put to work.”
Wind gusts were recorded at 70 mph and sustained winds hit 40 mph, and emergency services were halted briefly, Jones said. No fatalities resulting from the storm were reported.
“We had crews working that said it was some of the highest gusts and sustained winds they had ever seen,” he said.
Said Capt. Steve Jones of the Thomas County Sheriff’s Office: “We were lucky last night,” he said Thursday morning. “We were able to keep roads open and respond to calls for service as we needed.”
Chris Jones said emergency crews worked to clean up more than 200 trees during the storm and the county emergency operations center also lost power. It has been running on emergency power.
Chief Jones said two county fire stations are on emergency power and another has been relocated because it has no power.
“Just like the public, we’re being affected,” he said.
Generators have been placed at some traffic lights at major intersections but for those traffic signals that remain inoperable, authorities reminded drivers to treat them as four-way stops.
“But we are not back to a normal, functioning community,” Capt. Jones said. “We’re asking people if you don’t have to get out, stay off the roads. Traffic lights are out. Power is out. It’s making harder for the different people and different resources to do their job.”
EMS Director Tim Coram said his agency ran approximately 50 calls Wednesday, with 40 coming after 5 p.m. There was interruption of service but Coram said the longest wait times were 15-20 minutes.
“Our staff and all staffs did an outstanding job during the storm,” he said.
An EMS employee’s house in Decatur County was damaged by the storm, Coram said.
Megan Powell, marketing and communications director for Archbold Medical Center, said visitations at the hospital were being limited and for those who needed medical attention or needed to visit a patient were being directed to the emergency department entrance.
Updates on Archbold facilities’ operations are being posted on the Archbold website archbold.org and on Archbold’s Facebook page.
A Red Cross shelter has been opened at New Covenant Church on Highway 19 and 319 and 18 people were there as of 3 p.m. Thursday.
“We have plenty of capacity left,” Chris Jones said.
State Rep. Darlene Taylor said she was grateful for the the people who worked throughout the night and worked in concert before the storm hit.
“We are safe and secure,” she said. “This has been a devastating event for all of southwest Georgia, but we weathered it pretty well. I think a lot of that has to do with the planning.”
Taylor said she has been notified that Georgia has received approval from FEMA for help and will start receiving resources. She added that neighboring communities were hit harder and those people may require assistance.
Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.