Hurricane Irma storms arrive in Rabun County
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a constantly updated story. Check back frequently for the latest.
TO REPORT A POWER OUTAGE:
Georgia Power customers: Call 1-888-891-0938, or click here.
HEMC members: Call 1-800-640-6812 or 706-754-2114, or click here.
At 9:05 p.m. Monday, HEMC reported to emergency crews that it could no longer respond to calls in Rabun County for the night.
At 10 p.m. Monday, Georgia Power said it would wait until the winds died down before sending crews back into Rabun County to help. By then, 52 percent of their customers in the county were without power.
KNOWN POWER OUTAGES:
- Bethel Road, Tiger (6:45 p.m. report) - Out since 2 p.m.
- Highway 76, in the area of Blossom Drive (6:50 p.m. report)
- Warwoman Road, in the area of Avalon Street and Maple Drive (6:50 p.m. report)
- Highway 441 North at Old Highway 441 North, near Jiles Drive (6:50 p.m. report)
- Southards Drive, West Langston Avenue and Dotson Street, Mountain City (6:50 p.m. report)
- Black Branch Road, Rabun Gap (6:50 p.m. report)
- Sandy Ford Road at John Houck Road, Sandy Ford Road at Poole Creek Road (6:50 p.m. report)
- Various areas of Highway 76 East between Highway 441 and Rainey Mountain Road (6:50 p.m. report)
- Worley Creek, Wiley (6:50 p.m. report)
- Scarlet Lane (6:50 p.m. report)
- Lake Rabun area (6:50 p.m. report)
- Rock Mountain Road, Tallulah Falls (6:50 p.m.)
- Begonia Court in Clayton (7:05 p.m.)
- Stekoa Falls Road at Clois Road, trees smoking in downed power lines (7:24 p.m.)
- Claude Smith Road (7:25 p.m.)
- Long Mountain Drive, Lakemont (7:15 p.m.)
- Tuts Mountain (7:20 p.m.)
- Glassy Mountain (7:54 p.m.)
- Hall Lane, Mountain City (8:05 p.m.)
- Mountain Stream, Lakemont (8:05 p.m.)
- Tate City (8:20 p.m.)
- Jericho Lane/Clayton Avenue/Dunlap Street, Clayton (8:30 p.m.)
- North Ridge Drive, Tiger (9 p.m.)
- Seed Tick Road area, Clayton (9 p.m.)
- Stornoway and North Valley Street, Clayton (9:30 p.m.)
- Hillside Drive in Clayton (9:55 p.m.)
- Rock Mountain Road in Tallulah Falls (10:45 p.m.)
- 1,739 HEMC customers (8:45 p.m.) are without power (up from 229 at 7:15 p.m., from 710 at 7:55 p.m., from 890 at 8:20 p.m. and from 1,219 at 8:45 p.m.) in Rabun County. Areas include Oakey Mountain and Persimmon Road, and Eastman, Stroud and Cloud Mountain areas, Bridge Creek Road in Tiger, and Heaven's Landing/Devil's Branch Road/North Germany Mountain Road
- Georgia Power reporting 35 outages at 9:45 p.m. (down from 45 at 8:20 p.m., but up from 31 outages at 7:59 p.m.), affecting 5,735 customers in Rabun County. That's 52 percent of their customers in the county.
- All State Offices, except essential personnel
- Rabun County Schools - Monday and Tuesday
- Tallulah Falls School - Monday and Tuesday
- Rabun County Public Library - Open at noon Tuesday
- Rabun County Health Department - Closed Monday and Tuesday
- Lake Rabun Beach Day Use Area
- United Community Bank
- First American Bank - Closing at noon
- Chick-fil-A - Closing at 4 p.m.
- Creative Learning Center - Monday and Tuesday
- Rabun County offices will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday
- Boy Scout flag retirement, originally planned for 6:30 p.m. tonight
- The Vegetable Fermenting Class offered by Sustainable Mountain Living Community is canceled. Rescheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at Clayton City Hall.
- Tiger City Council meeting
- Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School - On Tuesday, Upper School in session, no buses. No school for Lower and Middle schools.
CLAYTON — It’s showtime, Rabun.
Storms resulting from the nearby passing of Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful cyclones to ever strike the Atlantic basin, will be growing in strength here today. On Sunday, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch and a high wind warning ahead of the expected storms. Gov. Nathan Deal expanded his state of emergency declaration to all Georgia counties and said the state government will be closed today and Tuesday, except for essential personnel.
Shortly after Deal’s announcement, Rabun County Schools Superintendent Melissa Williams canceled school and all after-school activities and athletic events for students, faculty and staff. Tallulah Falls School followed suit, altering its initial call for a half-day schedule. Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School opted for the half-day schedule, but bus service will not run because of the threat of high winds. Administrators for all three schools said they are monitoring the situation before making a decision regarding Tuesday schedules.
Rabun County Public Library Manager Stephanie Howard late on Sunday announced that the library would be closed because of the threat of dangerous weather.
Shortly after 4 p.m., Williams issued an all call to report that Rabun County Schools are closed for Tuesday as well. All after-school and sporting events were canceled. Twelve-month employees were asked to report after 9 a.m. if safe to do so.
After walloping the Florida Keys early Sunday morning with destructive winds and heavy rains, Irma weakened as it marched inland on the U.S. and into Georgia. At 5 a.m. today, Irma was classified as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained wind speeds of 94 mph. At 8:05 a.m., the Associated Press reported that Irma had been downgraded to a tropical storm. A 5 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory showed tropical storm effects were already striking many of Georgia's central and southern counties.
While the National Hurricane Center predicts the center of the storm will be pulled too far west to fully impact Rabun County, the NWS forecasts increasing chances of rain today, with up to 3/4 of an inch possible in some areas. That was down from an early morning forecast of up to an 1 inch possible. Rain had already begun to fall this morning before 6 a.m. as breezes began picking up. As evening falls, the chance for heavy rain increases to 100 percent, with new rainfall amounts of between 1 and 2 inches possible. That also was reduced from the early morning forecast of up to 2 and 3 inches.
Expected heavy rains prompted the U.S. Forest Service to close the Lake Rabun Beach Day Use Area today as part of its statewide closures of low-lying areas.
The greatest concern for power companies, emergency personnel and residents are the accompanying winds. The NWS forecast calls for Monday winds of between 16 and 22 mph, increasing to 20 to 25 mph in the afternoon. Wind gusts could reach speeds of up to 30 mph, the NWS states. Overnight wind speeds are expected to be between 21 and 26 mph, with gusts of up to 46 mph. The NWS reduced expected wind speeds around 8:30 a.m. Previous forecasts suggested gusts could reach speeds of 50 mph.
At 11 a.m., Georgia Power reported there were more than 300,000 customers without electricity. By 1 p.m., the company reported that there were more than 410,000 customers without power in Georgia and more than 3,600 individual cases of damage (including broken poles and lines). And by 3 p.m., Georgia Power reported there were more than 670,000 customers without power and more than 5,500 cases of damage. Georgia Power plans to send in repair crews after it is safe to do so. At 5:40 p.m., the company reported that 900,000 customers — approximately 50 percent of its customers statewide — were without power, and the number of cases of damage or trouble had increased to 7,000. By 8 p.m., the toll had risen to more than 950,000 customers without power and around 8,000 cases of damage.
Locally, at 8:45 p.m., Georgia Power reported 48 outages for 1,836 customers in Rabun County alone. HEMC reported 1,219 customers in Rabun County without power at the same time. At 9:10 p.m., HEMC reported to emergency crews that it could no longer respond to calls in Rabun County for the night. At 10 p.m., Georgia Power followed suit, saying it would wait until the wind calmed down before sending crews back in to help. By then, 52 percent of their customers in Rabun County - 5,745 customers - were without power.
“...The chance of downed trees and power lines is higher than normally expected with these winds due to the increasingly saturated soil and prolonged nature of the winds," the NWS stated in its 6:57 a.m. forecast discussion.
As winds picked up, trees in Rabun County began to fall. At 2:05 p.m., Rabun County dispatch reported downed trees and power lines on Avalon Street in Clayton. Other reports came from Old Highway 441 South near Clayton and Eastman Mountain Road near Boggs Mountain Road. At 4:54 p.m., a report of live power lines down came in from Walnut Mountain Road at Black Branch Road in Rabun Gap after a tree came down. At 5:13 p.m., first responders were sent to Rainey Mountain Road where a tree fell into a home. The fire department was sent to a grass fire caused by downed power lines in the 1800 block of East Wolf Creek Road. At 8:10 p.m., dispatchers reported that a tree fell into a home on Rose Circle.
After sunset, the Georgia Department of Transportation let emergency personnel know that it would not be sending personnel to clear debris from roadways until after the storm had passed.
In a previous discussion, the service stated: "Irma will pass well west of the (Rabun County), but has a very long reach with some impacts over the entire southeast (continental U.S.). Best chance for any brief tornadoes will be along and south of the warm front late on Monday.”
During a Friday press conference, Deal also warned Georgians about possible tornadoes as an offshoot of the hurricane.
"By shifting westward, it does have the capacity of slowing the winds down some because normally they would diminish as you go more on land, but that means a greater portion of the land mass of the state of Georgia is going to be affected by it. And, of course, one of the things that goes along with hurricanes is tornadoes, and our state has always been prone to tornado activity," Deal said.
Rabun County’s last confirmed major tornado struck April 27, 2011, when an EF-3 twister touched down behind Moccasin Creek Road. More than 400 houses were damaged and 30 completely destroyed as the tornado swirled across Lake Burton to the Timpson Cove area before finally stopping in Mountain City.
WORDS OF ADVICE
Clayton Police Chief Andy Strait has asked that residents be patient with first responders during the height of this storm, saying calls will be prioritized.
“During the most severe time of wind and rain and severe weather, calls such as unlocks will not be answered,” Strait said. “We will not risk the safety of an officer for things like that. If you observe the traffic lights out on (Highway 441) or Main Street, there is no need to call 911 for that. We will be aware of that and ask that you treat all intersections as a four-way stop.”
Strait also asked that residents refrain from calling 911 for weather or road condition reports, or to report power outages, because those non-emergency calls tie up phone lines and could cause unnecessary delays for those in emergency situations. He urged residents to report power outages to HEMC or Georgia Power (phone numbers and links available at the top of this story).
“Don’t call 911 to report outages unless you are dependent on oxygen or other life-saving devices,” he said.
It is recommended that travel be kept to a minimum as some streets and parts of main thoroughfares are prone to flooding in torrential rainfall. If travel is necessary, Strait advised against driving through standing water.
“Turn around so you don’t drown. That simple,” he said.
"As always, please take care of each other and be safe," the agency posted on Facebook.
At 7:45 p.m., Rabun County EMA sent a text message and a phone call to Rabun County residents asking that they stay home during the time of high wind warning because reports of downed trees and downed power lines were pouring in. Clayton police officers noted that there seemed to be more traffic in town after the winds picked up than there was during the day. Travel was becoming difficult as the sun set, with Station 4 firefighters reporting that they were trapped on Devil's Branch Road near North Germany Road by downed trees and live wires.
In announcing that it would send food safety inspectors to retail and manufactured food makers impacted by Hurricane Irma, the Georgia Department of Agriculture offered the following advice in the case of power outages:
- Before loss of power: Be sure you have a thermometer in all refrigerators (at or below 40°F) and freezers (at or below 0°F). Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep cold in the fridge/freezer/coolers if loss of power occurs. Group food together to help it stay colder longer; dry or block ice can help in event of prolonged power outages.
- During a power outage: Keep the doors to the fridge/freezer closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. Food will remain cold in the refrigerator for ~four hours if unopened. Past this time, without a generator, food products for retail sale are considered adulterated and will need to be disposed of.
- Once power is restored: Check the thermometer in the freezer, if it reads 40°F or below (or contains ice crystals still), the food is safe and may be refrozen or cooked. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than ~four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food that has been at temperatures above 40°F for more than ~two hours. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out!
OPEN DOORS AND WATER SHORTAGES
As Rabun County opened its doors to Florida and Southeastern Georgia evacuees, water supplies at local grocery stores began to run low. Residents and visitors looking to ensure a clean source of water before the storm left Walmart and Ingles shelves nearly bare before Friday. Water supplies remained anemic on Sunday evening, even after trucks dropped off the next round of inventory.
Rabun’s population is temporarily inflated by evacuees seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma. All Georgia state parks in the county are allowing evacuees to camp for free, said Black Rock State Park Manager Josh Cordle. He reported Friday that all Black Rock Mountain sites were full, but evacuees could camp on any dry ground areas including parking lots.
Rabun Arena also opened up for evacuees. County employees on Thursday worked to set up the stalls in the stall barn, which had been taken down after the Rabun County Fair.
"We will house as many as we possibly can," Arena personnel posted on Facebook. "We also have 40 hook ups for anyone to hook up to with a camper or RV."
Several residents also reported opening their doors to friends and family members coming from impacted areas. If you or anyone you know has opened their homes to Floridians or impacted Georgians, or if you're planning on helping with the storm aftermath, i.e., a trip to help clean up or with food/money donations, let The Clayton Tribune know by emailing Editor Klark Byrd at email@example.com.
FEDERAL HELP AVAILABLE
President Donald J. Trump on Friday approved Deal's state of emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts to Hurricane Irma.
The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate all disaster relief efforts. Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide, at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.
"We're going to get through this. We're a resilient state," Deal said.