Because of power outages affecting thousands of homes in the area, hotels and motels were booked to capacity Wednesday and again Thursday night.
One unusual story to emerge from this concerned arrangements made Wednesday between Gentilly Gardens and the Holiday Inn. Gentilly Gardens, on Gentilly Road, is a senior living community with 35 residents.
The electricity to the complex went off before 11 a.m. When it remained off into the afternoon, Gentilly Gardens Executive Director Chaka White became concerned. About 15 residents had local relatives who came to take them home, but the other 20 or so did not. Some of the residents are on oxygen.
"My concern was when it got later on in the evening and it got cold, we couldn't keep the residents safe, so we called around," White said. "The hospital couldn't really accommodate our residents, and that's who our backup plan is. We called Holiday Inn, and at no charge, they got some rooms available, they got some cots. They were on it."
Meanwhile, White called the Statesboro Fire Department for help moving the residents. From there, apparently, a call went to Bulloch County Schools personnel. With school canceled for the day, school system Transportation Director Paul Webb and bus mechanic Les Spence brought a bus to Gentilly Gardens, helped the residents onto the bus and took them to the Holiday Inn.
"I've just never seen such an outpour of community involvement," White said. "It just really amazed me at how they just jumped in."
In fact, all 93 of the Holiday Inn's rooms were full. So roll-away beds were set up in the banquet rooms and a TV provided.
"Unfortunately we had no guest rooms to give them, but we wanted to make sure they had a warm spot," Holiday Inn Statesboro General Manager Jack Forstrom said.
Around 5:30 p.m., just as the residents were all set up at the Holiday Inn, the electricity at Gentilly Gardens was restored. So the residents ate from the buffet in the hotel's restaurant, Emma's. Then the school transportation personnel took them back to Gentilly.
"They went above and beyond. I can't even express the gratitude that we felt," White said.
At checkout Thursday morning, the Holiday Inn had 46 vacancies, but sold out again by 2 p.m.
"A lot of people just don't have power and people want to make sure they have a warm place to spend the night tonight," Forstrom said. "The idea of camping out and not having power might be unique for one night, but it gets old after a short while."
At SpringHill Suites, General Manager Kris Hamilton reported that the hotel had been booked solid for two days, since about 2 p.m. Wednesday and that the phone had not stopped ringing. An employee answering the phone at Quality Inn & Suites said it too was full for a second night because of people seeking refuge from the power outages.
Another incident that attracted some initial attention but really didn't amount to much was the overflow of the water tower at Georgia Southern University.
The university issued a statement Thursday morning saying that when the campus lost power Wednesday, the water tower pumps defaulted to the "on" position, which caused an overflow. University officials resolved the situation. Campus residence halls, which receive water from the city of Statesboro, were not affected, the statement says.
As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Georgia Power had about 1,100 customers in Statesboro and about 1,800 in Swainsboro without power, said Swann Seiler, the utility's corporate communications manager for the Coastal Region. These numbers closely resembled the more exact but fluctuating counts on the map at outagemap.georgiapower.com.
Georgia Power was dedicating 150 personnel to restoring power in the Statesboro and Swainsboro area, Seiler said.
In Bulloch County, it appeared that the Portal area was the most affected. All of the town of Portal was without power as of 11 a.m. Thursday, and the heaviest icing appeared to have occurred there.
Statewide, outages had affected roughly 550,000 Georgia Power customers since midnight Tuesday, and about 345,000 had been restored by 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Seiler was making no prediction when everyone's electricity would be back on.
"We're not in a position to make a prediction," she said. "Right now, we're just concentrating on getting the job done, getting the lights back on as safely and as quickly as we can."
Meanwhile, Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation, which serves 22,000 customers in portions of eight counties, was also battling extensive outages.
The electric co-op has an outline outage map, which shows the power grid but not towns or counties, at www.excelsioremc.com. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the map showed 271 outages, with 1,047 customer locations confirmed out and an additional 1,714 unconfirmed but projected out by the computerized switching system. The peak outage count had been 5,232 affected customers, confirmed and unconfirmed, at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday, said Excelsior EMC General Manager Gary Drake. Okefenokee EMC, Grady EMC, Canoochee EMC and Satilla EMC sent crews to help Excelsior restore its lines. In some places, such as an area around Cypress Lake Road and Country Club Road, crews restored the same lines a second or third time after falling trees and limbs knocked them out again.
"When ice on the upper limbs melts and falls on the lower limbs that are already loaded with ice, it makes those limbs or trees have enough weight to fall, and that's what you battle with ice," Drake said. "You generally have that your second 12-18 hours dealing with an ice storm."
Excelsior EMC officials hoped to have the power back on to most of the remaining customers by 10 p.m. today but probably would be working Saturday to restore the last few, Drake said.
"There's some places we'll be working on Saturday where the customers have got to get an electrician to come in and repair the side of their house before we can hook the wire back up," Drake said. "But we won't quit until we get everybody back on."
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.