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This time, ice hits power lines hard

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This time, ice hits power lines hard

The Georgia State Patrol responds to a two-car accident on U.S. Highway 301 South near Interstate 16. The accident was caused by wet roads, not ice. One vehicle was drivable and one driver suffered a bruised leg. Rain and ice caused power outages and traffic problems Wednesday in Statesboro and Bulloch County.

Accumulating ice brought tree limbs crashing down onto power lines Wednesday, causing widespread power outages in the Statesboro area.

As the second ice storm in two weeks crossed Georgia, Statesboro received more pronounced effects than the first time. At 4 p.m., Georgia Power's automated online outage map showed 127 outages in the Statesboro area alone, affecting at that point 11,024 customers.

In Statesboro, 8,313 customers were reported without power, and 985 in Swainsboro, shortly after 4:30 p.m., said Swann Seiler, the utility's manager of corporate communications for the Coastal Region.

Interviewed earlier, Georgia Power spokesman Jeff Wilson in Atlanta listed Statesboro as one of the harder-hit areas.

At that point, about 133,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity statewide. The company had restored power to almost 88,000 customers. In other words, by mid-afternoon, about 220,000 customer locations had been without power at some point during the day.

"So while the 133,000 number is certainly high, we have crews that have been out there working since the start, so we've restored service to a lot of customers," Wilson said.

The utility company had about 5,000 people working on the outages statewide, including Georgia Power crews, contractors and employees from utility companies in other states. Crews from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas had come to Georgia to assist.

Georgia Power was expecting more outages during the night.

"An ice storm is different from something like restoring power after a hurricane or a thunderstorm or a tornado, because you can put a line back up here in an ice storm but ice can continue to build and knock that line out again, so that's the problem we're seeing," Wilson said.

The areas with the most outages extended from the south end of metro Atlanta, along the Interstate 20 corridor to Augusta, and south to Statesboro, Wilson said. As of 3:30, the automated map showed six hubs with more than 50 outages each: Atlanta, Augusta, Carrolton, Macon, Sandersville and Statesboro.

As the storm was moving into southeast Georgia, Georgia Power mobilized what Seiler termed "significant resources," including manpower and equipment, to the northern part of the Coastal Region — Statesboro and Swainsboro. She did not have specific numbers of people mobilized.

"We knew those areas would be impacted first and most significantly, and that's still where our resources are staging," she said. "That includes everyone from line crew personnel, engineers, logistics, damage evaluators — so they all work to restore power as quickly as possible."

Seiler said the biggest issues Georgia Power has faced are ice bringing down power lines, or ice bringing down tree limbs onto power lines and damaging them. She added there have been sporadic problems with transformers.

Seiler asked for patience because much of Georgia is dealing with significant power outages from the winter storm. Anyone who has smartphone or tablet access can check their power status at

Late-afternoon calls to the Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation numbers in Statesboro and Metter failed to reach a company official. These were instead routed to an automated outage reporting system.

"We are currently experiencing widespread power outages throughout our service area," said a recorded message at one of the numbers.

The Statesboro Herald worked around its own power outages, which affected the Herald's main offices beginning around 1 p.m., to produced today's edition.

Traffic lights failed at many intersections in and around Statesboro beginning in the late morning Wednesday. Police were soon directing traffic at major crossings such as Fair Road at South Zetterower Avenue and U.S. Highway 301 South at Veterans Memorial Parkway, and had side streets were closed.

"It's all over the city right now in various places," Cpl. Justin Samples, the public information officer for the Statesboro Police Department reported during the noon hour. "As the ice causes these limbs to fall and they hit the power lines, you're going to have power outages in that area."

The Police Department had two shifts — double the normal on-duty force — working at that point, and would continue until conditions improved, said Samples, who later in the afternoon was helping police direct traffic as more traffic signals didn't work because of power outages.

The department sent out an alert advising everyone to stay off the roads if possible, and Samples said this advice would take on more urgency after 6 p.m.

"All this water is not going to go anywhere, and it's probably going to freeze, so we're encouraging them strongly to stay off the roadways," Samples said.
He asked that citizens call their power company, not the police or 911, for power outages that do not present a threat to public safety.

The Fire Department and city Public Works Department were also out in force, Samples noted, as the city repeated many of the steps taken in response to an ice storm warning two weeks earlier.

County officials were also responding in a similar way to the previous winter weather emergency. Bulloch County.
"Tonight is a concern," said Bulloch County Emergency Management Director Ted Wynn, who had again been in touch with the National Weather Service. "They're talking about Bulloch County - all of it - being below that freeze line for most of the night starting about 7 o'clock tonight until about 4 in the morning."

If the rain continued with the freezing temperatures, Wynn said, the problems would only get worse through the night. He echoed the advice for people to stay off the roads, check with employers early Thursday morning, and watch media outlets for school cancellations.

After closing Wednesday, the Bulloch County Schools, Georgia Southern University and Ogeechee Technical College remain closed today. The East Georgia State College campuses in Statesboro, Swainsboro and Augusta are all closed today. The Candler County, Evans County, Jenkins County and Screven County schools are all closed today.

The Candler and Evans schools, which have regularly scheduled holidays Friday and Monday, announced they will welcome students back on Tuesday. The Bulloch County schools are set to reopen Friday.

Bulloch Academy is closed today after experiencing a power failure Wednesday. Bible Baptist School, Trinity Christian School and Charter Conservatory are also closed today.

Staff Writer Jason Wermers contributed to this report.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9431.


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