How did we weather the storm? You decide

Shirley Hills residents Betty Rivers and Russell Claxton, with downed trees and power lines all around them, look to the skies for more rain and wind after the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Irma.
Shirley Hills residents Betty Rivers and Russell Claxton, with downed trees and power lines all around them, look to the skies for more rain and wind after the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Irma. bcabell@macon.com

Hurricane Irma will not be soon forgotten, nor will Middle Georgians response to its devastation. Due to advanced planning, the storm’s fury was contained as much as humanly possible, and while some in Macon are just getting their electricity service restored, the Herculean job by Georgia Power and its partners, Macon-Bibb County personnel, first responders and everyone who played a part in the preparation and execution of the disaster plan has to be recognized.

According to Macon-Bibb County, on Monday, there were 55,000 homes and businesses without power, 212 roads closed due to downed trees, power lines or other debris. There were more than 250 intersections with inoperative traffic signals either from being bashed by high winds or not having power.

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Macon-Bibb County employee Shannon Callaway installs a new light on Spring Street Tuesday afternoon where winds from Tropical Storm Irma knocked an old one down yesterday. Beau Cabell bcabell@macon.com

By Friday afternoon, 49,387 homes or businesses had their power restored; 209 blocked roads were cleared and all but one intersection had functioning traffic signals.

Obviously, for some, help did not come quickly enough, tons of food had to be tossed and there was enough inconvenience to go around. Certainly, communications — and nerves — were a bit frazzled and some things don’t seem to make sense, drawing questions such as, “Why does my neighbor have power and I’m still sitting in the dark?” The answer can be complicated depending on what grid each home is serviced by or what transformer took a hit.

The delays weren’t because the power company wasn’t prepared. Georgia Power had more than 1,400 crews and contractors working in Middle Georgia from as far away as Pennsylvania as the storm approached Monday. More crews arrived from Alabama Power on Wednesday. But for just a moment, let’s ponder a more global view of the damage Hurricane Irma heaped on Georgia.

Jon Jaster directs utility trucks to their parking spaces at the Macon Centerplex Coliseum. Woody Marshall wmarshall@macon.com

By the time Irma hit Middle Georgia it was hurricane no more but a tropical storm and at the peak of it, Georgia Power had almost 1 million customers without electricity in the state. And not to use the term “perfect storm” incorrectly, but power companies were dealing with the aftermath of not one, but two huge storms that hit Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia all within a span of two weeks stretching manpower and materiel.

That said, there are a few lessons we can take away from these storms. One lesson is age old, but must be taught again and again. Fortunately, it wasn’t a lesson learned the hard way locally, but some victims of Hurricane Harvey forgot flood waters can rise quickly and the powerful current can wash vehicles — and them — away.

We were constantly reminded not to touch downed power lines, and for the most part those messages were effective. The storm should have also reminded us of the old Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared.” We are sure to stock up on flashlight batteries, candles and water and other necessities before we need them. And finally, there was the lesson of what to do if a traffic signal is inoperative or blinking? Do not go cruising through an intersection without stopping first, treat it as a four-way stop.

Crews prepare to remove tree that had fallen across power lines during Tropical Storm Irma. Georgia Power

All in all, Middle Georgia showed its heart. We opened up our homes and city to visitors, some of whom are still with us because there is nothing for them to go home to. Others remained as they sorted out their next move and how to make that next move happen.

The fact that we are recovering as fast as we are takes team work, and when all is said and done and the final report is unpacked, we believe our grade will be stellar, not just for those who had to implement the plan, but for those neighborly Middle Georgians who could only offer a welcoming smile, a helping hand and a thank you to the power crews that came to the rescue.