Putnam deputy’s alert helps women avoid calamity

obrown@macon.comApril 30, 2014 

The winds whipping through Putnam County on Wednesday morning were starting to draw attention.

Shop owners in downtown Eatonton walked outside to take a look. Over at the Putnam County Courthouse, sheriff’s Deputy John Harper did the same.

There, just after 9 a.m., he heard the old oak tree near the courthouse crackle and pop -- a sure sign trouble was coming.

He saw two women scurrying toward the courthouse, hustling to get inside. But he knew that was a bad idea.

“Run! Run the other way,” Harper yelled to the two -- and they did.

Then the huge tree snapped, crushing a parked bailiff’s car and shattering glass in another car that was rolling past the courthouse at the wrong time.

“If they’d kept walking, there’s no doubt in my mind it would have fallen on top of them,” Harper said later. “It fell that fast.”

The oak tree -- about 100 years old and at least 3 feet in diameter -- was one of many that fell across the county in about 90 minutes Wednesday.

Sheriff Howard Sills said no injuries were reported, and roads were cleared quickly.

Across Georgia, strong gusts were responsible for a death in Athens when a tree crashed down on a car. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 50 mph in parts of Georgia. That was more than enough to topple trees after three days of on-and-off rain.

A flood watch remained in effect until 1 a.m. Thursday, with up to 2 inches of rain forecast for parts of the state.

In Putnam County, trees started tumbling about 8:30 a.m. Calls began pouring in to the sheriff’s office -- so many that Sills had to deploy other workers to field them.

“Trees were down all over,” he said. “The radio room was overwhelmed.”

Much of downtown Eatonton, including the courthouse, lost power, as did parts of the county.

“Any time we have a storm where wind is involved, that happens,” the sheriff said.

Back at the courthouse, State Court was in session. The two women who’d dodged disaster found Harper and thanked him.

Long out of harm’s way, though, they didn’t want to walk out the front door.

“I let ‘em out the back,” Harper said.

Writer Liz Fabian contributed to this report. To contact writer Oby Brown, call 744-4396.

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