Darlene Briales got her 1-year-old granddaughter a bottle from the kitchen and sat down with her on the bed in the next room. Minutes later, an oak tree came crashing into her kitchen and dining room.
“I heard a loud snap. Everything opened up and (the tree) came through,” said Briales, 55. “I could have died in that apartment yesterday. We are so blessed, because the way that thing fell.”
Tropical Storm Irma downed trees all across Middle Georgia on Monday. Preliminary reports from the Bibb County Emergency Management Agency showed 65 fallen trees, but property damage was still being assessed.
Houston County’s first dispatch data showed 175 fallen trees, 101 power lines knocked down by trees, and 24 structures and six vehicles damaged from trees or limbs, said Chief Jimmy Williams, the county’s EMA director. Houston had one minor injury from a tree falling on a vehicle.
A man at a Monroe County campground was hospitalized after a tree fell on him, EMA Director Matthew Perry said. The county had hundreds of trees down, about a dozen on structures. Culloden and the High Falls area were hit particularly hard.
Hitting too close to home
Briales lives in a second-story apartment on English Avenue in Macon with her 22-year-old son, Eddie Connerly, who also was at home when the tree crushed the unit’s corner about 2 p.m. Monday. A second tree was leaning on the back side of the apartment building, and all eight families in the building had to evacuate, Briales said.
Connerly said his family had just paid their rent and bills for the month. They lost a lot of their personal belongings, and they’re moving what they have left to a vacant unit in the next building, Briales said.
“In a matter of minutes, your whole life is upside down,” Connerly said. “It could have been avoided. Irma isn’t what destroyed the tree.”
Connerly and Briales said they had heard the tree creaking before and had repeated asked their landlord to remove it. Briales said they would look for a new apartment and would not stay in the English Avenue complex much longer.
Nearby on Pierce Drive South, a crane lifted an elm tree off Letitia Clark’s one-story home on Tuesday afternoon. She’s lived in the house for almost 30 years. She was at son Doug Clark’s home also in Macon when the storm hit Monday.
Clark said the house suffered substantial structural damage. The impact shifted the roof, which was replaced just two years ago, and caused the ceiling to cave in rooms on the front side of the house. She’s now staying with her son and is in the process of taking all her things there.
“At least it’s not as bad as some people. It’s just a house. It can be replaced,” she said. “I just feel blessed that nobody was hurt.”
Jared and Natalie Cozart have lived in their brick, two-story home in the Stanislaus neighborhood for only two months, and now it’s in need of repair. A large oak fell into their 6-month-old daughter’s room, the sun room and the attic. Luckily, they were downstairs when it hit.
“It took a little beating here, but we’ll get it back together,” he said.
Residents are encouraged to call their county’s EMA office to report trees still on roadways, officials said. Monroe EMA workers have had to move 100-year-old oak trees, Perry said. Some roads won’t be able to be cleared until power companies handle the downed lines.
“All primary roads are open (in Houston County). There may be a few secondary roads that may have some blockages, but we’re still trying to get a handle on those things,” Williams said. “We have damage assessment teams going out to look at those areas, to get a better idea as to what we have.”
By early Wednesday afternoon, Gray Brothers Tree Service had already received 150 calls for tree removal services, said secretary Hallie Hudson. Their services start at around $400, but the cost varies depending on factors like position of the tree, distance from the house, equipment needed and difficulty of the job.
The company generally serves from Forsyth to Perry and Milledgeville, but it’s concentrating on Macon jobs and emergencies first. For instance, trees in living spaces take precedence over trees in attics or yards.
“Everybody’s situation is very urgent to them. Just keep in mind there’s only so much that can be done,” Hudson said. “The workers need to be safe. Don’t try to be a super hero and do something yourself.”
Jackson Buice, owner of Advantage Tree Service in Warner Robins, recommended that residents with downed trees call their insurance agents first to get instructions. If a tree damages property, most homeowner’s insurance will cover the cost to get the tree off the house and some of the debris removal.