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Back-to-back storms in Georgia mean doing repairs all over
Irma brings more headaches in wake of Matthew
W ga irma
Joey Spalding talks with friends on his cellphone Tuesday on Tybee Island, Ga., while cleaning up after Tropical Storm Irma flooded his neighborhood yesterday. - photo by Associated Press

SAVANNAH — New drywall, new insulation, repaired door frames and fresh paint — Joey Spalding was still finishing repairs at his home on Tybee Island nearly a year after it got flooded by Hurricane Matthew.

The work still wasn't done Monday when Tropical Storm Irma slogged across Georgia, triggering a storm surge that inundated much of the Atlantic beach community of 3,000 residents with floodwaters. Spalding scrambled to get furniture off the floor as 2 feet (0.6 meters) of water rose quickly inside the house.

"We're still just kind of putting it back together and BAM, it came again and destroyed it," Spalding said. "Everything's fine and the next minute you're scratching your head saying, 'What the hell happened?'"

Spalding isn't the only one starting all over with repairs after Irma struck so soon after Matthew, which caused $500 million in damage when it raked coastal Georgia last October. Irma caused extensive flooding along Georgia's 100 miles (160 kilometers) of coast. Portions of coastal South Carolina flooded as well.

Irma killed two people in Georgia and four in South Carolina. The extent of property damage in the Southeast still wasn't known Tuesday.

Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman estimated several hundred homes had flooded in his community alone, including roughly 200 houses that took in water during Matthew.

While Matthew's destruction was largely confined to coastal areas, Irma had a much wider path of damage. Tropical storm winds reached more than 400 miles (645 kilometers) from the storm's center, toppling trees that crashed onto homes and power lines across a large inland area.

"Statewide we're going to have more (insurance) claims than we did with Matthew," said Jay Florence, Georgia's deputy insurance commissioner. "But they're going to be most acute on the coast."

The storms passing also left many without electricity. More than 894,000 Georgia Power and Electric Membership Corp. customers were in the dark Tuesday afternoon.

Georgia Power spokeswoman Swann Seiler said fewer outside resources were available to help in Georgia because of massive efforts to restore electricity in hurricane-battered Florida and Texas. She said Georgia customers should be prepared to wait several days.

Alabama Power reported 20,000 outages Tuesday morning. No major storm damage was reported in Alabama.

Irma's remnants forced Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest passenger airport, to cancel nearly 200 flights early Tuesday. That boosted the total number of trips Irma interrupted to about 1,300, Atlanta airport spokesman Andrew Gobeil said.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal lifted an evacuation order Tuesday for nearly 540,000 coastal residents.  He cautioned that recovery could take longer because the storm affected the entire state.

"We have not had one like this in the state of Georgia for a long time," Deal said.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster counted his state's blessings, even as he mourned the four deaths there from the storm. There were still more than 100,000 power outages reported in the state Tuesday afternoon.

"We are very happy the hurricane went someplace else — the main force of it," McMaster said Tuesday and what he planned to be his last briefing on Irma.

North Carolina had some mountain roads blocked by trees and tens of thousands of people without power. But Gov. Roy Cooper said most problems in the state should be resolved by Wednesday.

In Georgia, a man was killed when a tree toppled on his house; a woman died after a tree fell on a vehicle in which she was riding. The dead in South Carolina included a man struck by a tree limb while clearing storm debris and a man who died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator inside his mobile home.

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