Thousands of Middle Georgia residents woke Friday to power outages and a day that was destined for warm blue skies.
Bill Wright, Jones County's assistant fire chief, got some sleep Thursday night in his cold, dark house after having worked 36 hours straight. He found clear roads Friday but plenty of power outages remaining from the ice storms. Asked when those will clear, he said, "I think by Sunday's the target day. That's what they're telling me, at my house, any way."
Tri-County EMC crews, and linemen from four other states, lost ground overnight as hundreds more customers lost power as temperatures dipped below freezing. By 3:30 a.m., the organization reported having 57 percent of customers without power, down from a record 77 percent.
Thousands of Georgia Power customers are also waiting in the dark for power to return.
While electric service is expected to be back on by early Friday for some customers, Georgia Power expects it will be late afternoon or early evening before service is restored for more than 700 customers near Millerfield Road in Bibb and Jones counties. One of the largest power outages remaining in Macon, about 400 customers along Clairmont Avenue, is expected to be cleared early Friday afternoon.
In Jones County, Georgia Power predicted it would clear three large pockets of outages, each with hundreds of customers, between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday. Plenty of work for crews remains. In the Milledgeville area alone, some 58 power outages affecting more than 3,400 customers remained at 7:15 a.m. Friday, and dozens more outages affecting thousands of people around Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee lay just to the north.
Well to the south of there, some 260 Georgia Power customers near Jeffersonville were expected to get their power back late Friday morning. Twiggs County schools are canceled.
Challenges crews found Thursday suggest outages will be difficult to clear.
A tree blocking Wimbish Road held up trucks working to repair downed lines that left nearly 400 folks in the dark and cold as snowflakes fell to the ground that morning.
A car became lodged under the tree the night before, so the street was closed much of the day from North Macon Park to Old Lundy Road.
It was one of numerous mishaps on Middle Georgia’s ice-covered streets, bridges and interstates.
The Thursday morning problems on the roads mostly melted away with the ice, but thousands of Middle Georgians continued to feel the lingering chill of no heat or power.
Since Tuesday, 470,000 Georgia Power customers experienced a loss of electricity, said Carol Boatright, Georgia Power spokeswoman. By Thursday night that number was reduced to about 143,000, with most of them in the Augusta area, according to the utility’s online outage map. By Friday morning, about 108,000 Georgia Power customers were without power.
In Macon, more than 9,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity throughout the day Thursday. By Friday morning, about 2,200 customers lacked power.
Tri-County EMC reported about 12,400 customers without power at 3:30 a.m. Jones County customers had about 4,800 outages, with about 3,900 in Baldwin County and 3,300 in Putnam County.
Milledgeville and Baldwin County residents overloaded emergency phone lines with calls reporting downed trees and power outages.
Patti Rushin, co-owner of The Fun!Factory, opened up her 25,000-square-foot building at 1850 N. Columbia St. as a shelter for those without lights or heat Thursday.
From about 10 a.m. Wednesday until 10 a.m. Thursday, Rushin’s business hosted about 50 people at different times. Two elderly ladies remained Thursday morning, Rushin said.
“They’re becoming great friends,” she said. “The one from Cuba is going to learn English before she leaves, and the lady from Milledgeville will be speaking Spanish.”
Rushin said they are prepared to keep the skating rink and arcade open as long as there’s a need.
“We were just greatly blessed,” she said of the time spent helping others through the storm.
Bibb County deputies worked several accidents Thursday due to icy roads, including wrecks on Interstates 16, 75 and 475.
About 4 a.m., the switchboard began lighting up at the Macon-Bibb 911 Center.
Multiple truck accidents blocked all lanes of I-475 northbound beginning at the split with I-75 North in south Bibb County.
In Monroe County, numerous roads were impassable because of downed trees after about a half-inch of ice accumulated on branches and power lines, said Monroe County EMA Director Matt Perry.
In Jones County, ice-covered power lines hung so low across Ga. 49 that a detour was set up near Garrison Road and the railroad tracks.
In Baldwin County, so many trees were down on Linton Road that it was closed from Sparta Highway to the Hancock County line.
Conditions were much better farther south.
Houston County EMA Director Jimmy Williams said crews treated three bridges for ice and a few power outages were taken care of overnight Wednesday.
Houston County 911 reported seeing some snow flurries about 6 a.m., but no major problems. Salt trucks took care of an earlier icy patch on Watson Boulevard near Interstate 75. Snow fell for about five minutes around 7 a.m. along U.S. 41, but it quickly melted.
“We were very blessed that our crews were prepared and Mother Nature decided to stay north of the Echeconnee Creek,” Williams said.
Staff writers Andres Lopez, Ben Yoder, Jennifer Burk and Mike Stucka contributed to this report.