Bulloch County public works personnel continued efforts to clear and repair dozens of flooded, eroded and tree-blocked roads Thursday, while power company crews were still working to restore electricity to customers here and in neighboring counties knocked offline by the passage of Hurricane Idalia.
Passing through on Wednesday afternoon, the storm dumped over eight inches of rain on most of Bulloch. But winds gusting to over 40 mph were just barely in the “tropical-storm-force” range of 39-73 mph. A weather instrument at the county’s Emergency Operations Center registered a peak windspeed of 45 mph sometime after 4 p.m. Wednesday, while an anemometer at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport recorded a highest sustained speed of 26 knots (30 mph) and a fastest gust of 33 knots (39 mph).
“We had eight-plus inches of rain according to the National Weather Service,” Bulloch County Public Safety and EMA Director Ted Wynn said Thursday morning. “Of course, that has damaged a good many roads. Public works is out doing a full assessment this morning.”
He shared two phone numbers for residents needing individual assistance, the American Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767, or, for public cleanup assistance, 1-800-451-1954. “Immediate recovery will focus on feeding and sheltering,” Wynn wrote in an email. But there were few calls for this kind of assistance.
Widespread road damage
That wasn’t the case with road damage. Citizens should report damage to county roads directly to the Bulloch County Public Works Department at 912-764-6369, except when an emergency justifies calling 911.
Both Public Works and Transportation Director Dink Butler and Assistant Public Works Director Robert Seamans had worked into the night Wednesday. The Public Works Division’s entire workforce of about 50 was deployed, with equipment from trucks and backhoes to chainsaws and shovels.
“Last night when I left at 3 a.m. we had answered 71 calls for either trees blocking roads or water over roads,” Seamans said. “We answered more since then, but that was at 3 a.m.”
Seamans had gone home at 3 a.m. and caught about one hour of sleep, he said. Interviewed by phone later in the morning, he was conducting the road damage assessment while Butler caught a break.
Don’t pass barricades
“We still have quite a few that are impassable right now, we’ve got them barricaded off and are encouraging the public to please, please, not drive around barricades or signs where we’ve got them posted that it’s dangerous conditions,” Seamans said.
Drivers’ decisions to drive around barricades had resulted in some Wednesday evening accidents in which vehicles slid or were washed into ditches, he said, but knew of no resulting injuries.
Of the 40-50 tree-blocked road segments reported in the calls Wednesday afternoon and evening, all but two had been cleared by 3 a.m., he said. The county crews had to wait for power company crews to remove fallen lines in those two areas.
But the county had also received more calls about fallen trees Thursday morning.
“Of the roads that had water over them or received severe damage, which was in the neighborhood of between 20 and 30 (roads), most of those are still signed to do not enter until we can get around and do an assessment on those roads, both paved and dirt,” Seamans said.
The list of road closures remained fluid through Thursday morning, with more roads cleared but other calls coming in. The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office had earlier published a list of affected roads on its Facebook page.
Wynn had heard of no injuries resulting from Idalia. He credited people heeding the “stay off the roads” message from county officials, as well as the relative weakness of the storm’s winds when it reached this part of Georgia.
“Absolutely,” he said Thursday. “I think that the first responders just mitigated a lot of things last night. We did not stop responding, we kept going out, but we didn’t get a lot of calls, so we’re very, very thankful for that. I think people heeded the advice and sheltered in place, and I think that contributed greatly to the lack of injuries and perhaps even deaths.”
The two electric companies that serve the area – Georgia Power and Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation – were making a lot of progress in restoring power Thursday morning, Wynn said.
Excelsior EMC, the Metter-based electric cooperative, touches eight counties, but the largest concentration of its customers is in Bulloch, Candler and Emanuel counties.
Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, Excelsior EMC posted a notice on its Facebook page stating that approximately 9,600 of its members, meaning customer locations such as homes and businesses, had been left without power.
“We have additional crews from other electrical co-ops, contract crews, retired employees, and right-of-way crews on site to help in our restoration effort,” the statement continued. “We appreciate your patience as we work to get the lights back on!”
Shortly before noon Thursday, the EMC posted an update stating that 5,904 members were then without power. By 6 p.m., the online outage map at https://outage.excelsioremc.com showed markedly fewer icons for neighborhood outages but still significant numbers of customers affected, especially in Bulloch and Candler.
Meanwhile, Georgia Power reported it had restored service for 170,000 customers across affected areas of the state by noon. Fewer than 80,000 remained without power due to the hurricane statewide, said Tess Newton, the company’s regional communications specialist.
“We’ve been continuously working since conditions became safe last night to assess and clear damage and restore power in our area,” she wrote in an 11 a.m. reply email. “We currently have under 300 customers still without power in the Statesboro area. Crews are working to get those customers restored as quickly as they can and to get the lights back on.”
The Bulloch County Schools, as announced Tuesday afternoon, closed Wednesday and Thursday, but they were set to reopen Friday with some cautions for parents about the condition of the county’s roads.
“Across Bulloch County, we understand that there may be residences or roads which experienced greater damage than others,” wrote Hayley Greene, the school district public relations director. “As with any major weather event, parents should address their individual conditions and make the best attendance decisions for their child. Our administrators will work with families in areas with confirmed damage if their child is tardy or absent. Remember to submit an absence excuse online or send a note with your child when he or she returns to school.”
She also advised parents to be extra careful if driving and expect some alternate school bus stops.
“Based on Thursday evening’s inventory of known road hazards, the district will make contact with families who have bus riders, to alert them if a temporary, alternate bus stop is needed for their area,” Greene wrote. “There will be longer drive times for bus routes, so expect delays.”
But all 15 schools had power – none had experienced extended outages – and all were inspected by their principals and found safe for students to return, she stated.
Numerous low-lying areas along streets in Statesboro flooded with a few inches of standing water during the storm Thursday. But the water quickly drained away, said Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles.
“As soon as the rains ended, water levels started to recede in the drainage ways (ditches and canals), and then the roads started to be alleviated from the flooding conditions,” he said.
One area that experienced wide but not deep flooding was the Little Lotts Creek drainage across Fair Road and Memorial Park eastward from South Main Street, the area of the planned Creek on the Blue Mile project. This short-term flooding extended into the parking lot at College Plaza (the shopping center where Ollie’s Bargain Outlet is located). An area of South Zetterower Avenue also flooded, as did places on Parker Street, West Jones Avenue, East Main Street, West Main Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, West Grady Street and Zetterower Road, among others.
But the city’s stormwater utility, streets and parks crews had cleared drainage structures in advance and were prepared to remove any downed trees and limbs from public right of ways afterward. By Thursday morning, all that remained was some limited erosion damage, Boyles said.