Even though Tropical Storm Hermine weakened and its center passed a little to the east, county and city crews were left clearing downed trees from roadways Friday while power companies worked to restore outages affecting about 3,000 Bulloch County homes and businesses.
Briefly a hurricane, with 80 mph winds when approaching the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Hermine quickly weakened after making landfall about 1:30 a.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center reported.
But combined with rain, winds half of Hermine’s earlier speeds were enough to inflict minor mayhem here. The automated weather station at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport recorded sustained winds of 20 to 24 mph through the early afternoon, with gusts into the upper 30s. A gust of 41 mph was recorded about 3:35 p.m., which is when more reports of fallen trees began to be heard on a scanner.
“Pretty much the weather looks like it’s not the issue anymore,” said Bulloch County 911 Director Kelly Barnard. “It’s just so wet and the ground is saturated and now we’re getting either the trees that have very shallow roots that are falling or limbs that probably already broken or cracked are coming down.”
The gauge at the Bulloch County 911 Center recorded 4.7 inches of rain as of 4 p.m., but a mist was still falling two hours later. One rain gauge in Brooklet collected seven inches from about 9 p.m. Thursday until the sun broke through at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
While coordinating crews to saw up and remove downed trees, county Transportation Director Dink Butler had to work from his truck while fielding calls from the 911 center. In the mid to late afternoon, the electricity was off at Bulloch County Correctional Institute, which is the source of correctional officers and inmates who work on the road crews. The 911 center was being powered by an emergency generator.
At that point the county had 10 separate crews working. They had responded to 15 to 20 reports of fallen trees, Butler said, but at that point he was getting another call every two or three minutes.
“It looks like the wind may be laying down a little bit now, but we’re probably going to start hearing about more trees on these dirt roads as people start getting home,” Butler said.
Of course the county’s main concern was clearing trees that fell on roadways, so his temporary estimate did not indicate how many trees fell on private property.
A section of NeSmith Road, from Iron Horse Road to address No. 2284, had to be closed Friday for a different reason. The county transportation department had done ditch maintenance there, leaving lose dirt, and the rain made the road impassable, Butler said.
The two power companies that serve the majority of Bulloch County addresses, statewide Georgia Power and Metter-based regional Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation, were both working to restore outages.
As of 2:30 p.m., Georgia Power reported outages affecting more than 100,000 of its approximately 2.5 million customers statewide.
Georgia Power spokesperson Holly Crawford said it was hard to know at that point whether the outages and the efforts to fix them had peaked. About 3,000 engineers and linemen were working, but special scouts went in first, she explained.
“We have to have our damage assessment teams go into these areas, assess the damage, determine what crews and equipment we need to repair the outage, and we may have to determine it’s safe for the crews to get in there,” she said.
At that time, about half of the outages were in the Savannah area. At 2:30, Georgia Power had 47,520 customers without power in Chatham County, where it serves a total of 140,807 customers, according to numbers from the company’s frequently updated outage map on the Internet.
The power grid in the Brunswick area was also hit hard. Georgia Power reported outages affecting almost 20,000 of its 47,272 Glynn County customers. Hermine hit the Valdosta area earlier in the morning, and 9,995 of Georgia Power’s 30,336 Lowndes County customers were reported to be without power at 1:30 p.m.
The number of outages in Bulloch County peaked later. At 4:30 p.m., Georgia Power was reporting 18 outage areas in Bulloch, with 1,827 customer addresses affected out of the 19,782 it serves here.
Meanwhile, the power was also out to 1,222 Bulloch County customers served by Excelsior EMC. At that time, Excelsior’s automatically updated map showed that 2,585 customer had been affected by outages in its service area, which includes parts of eight counties. Of those, 105 customers had been restored, leaving 2,480 without power at 4:30.
The count of customers affected also included 770 in Candler County, 232 in Emanuel, 37 in Evans, 13 in Jenkins and 206 in Tattnall County.
Phoned about two hours earlier, Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation CEO Greg Proctor had said the situation wasn’t much worse than can happen with a severe thunderstorm. But that was when the number of customers affected was lower.
“This is not a terrible amount of damage and we were fortunate that it hit during the daylight hours, which always speeds it up,” Proctor said. “It makes it easier to make repairs and do your inspections and patrols.”
The EMC had 28 people working on the outages, including scouts and repair crews.
At 7:45 p.m. Excelsior’s map indicated that power had been restored to all but 421 customers throughout its service area, including 366 still affected Bulloch customers. Georgia Power had 67,435 customers still affected by outages, including 1,348 in Bulloch County.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.