Sumter dodges worst of Irma

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, September 13, 2017

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — For most folks in this area of the state, the past four days (Saturday-Tuesday) have been filled with uncertainty, the quest for preparedness, and the survival instinct. Fortunately, what was expected from Hurricane Irma, which was downgraded to tropical storm status before hitting this area of the state, was not as bad as first predicted; at least not in Sumter County. Many citizens escaped unscathed; never lost power and remained sheltered in their homes. Many others sustained trees and/or tree limbs on their houses or cars. Thousands lost power to their homes.

This pine tree fell at Pinecrest Drive and Pine Avenue brought down power lines and blocked the street.

Public works and utility company personnel were still out in force Tuesday cutting up fallen trees and clearing debris, and restoring power and cable

A scene on Sharon Drive shows a tangle of pine tree and power lines.

services. After working nonstop Sunday morning through Tuesday morning, some first responders were given an opportunity to get a well-deserved rest, while local schools remained closed for another day.

A closer view of the tree that fell on Sharon Drive.

The shelves of local stores started emptying of water and bread as early as Wednesday, Sept. 6, as evacuees from Florida started pouring into Sumter County for shelter. The gas pumps at some local stations were closed midweek as well. Motels were full by midweek as well. Preparations continued as outdoor furniture, grills, plants, and trash hoboes were secured. As of Saturday and Sunday, some stores, especially Walmart, were still filled with customers. Walmart closed at 4 p.m. Sunday so employees could make their own preparations.

Work was ongoing Tuesday morning, clearing storm debris, at this house at the corner of Barlow and College streets.

Magnolia Manor, which had received residents from Coastal Georgia, was on generator power Monday. That included the Manor and nursing center.
As Sumter County and the City of Americus declared a state of local emergency, a sunset until sunrise curfew went into effect Monday and Tuesday in Americus. The curfew for Tuesday night was later lifted.

A large tree snapped and fell onto a vehicle, totaling it, at this residence on Felder Street.

And in the early morning hours of Monday, it started: the plaintive, howling winds; the sounds of pine cones and branches striking rooftops, and the pouring rain.
Monday was a day unfit for anyone to be out, but law enforcement, fire and rescue, public works, EMS, and citizen volunteers were on the job. During an

Even before the storm struck Sumter County, people were praying as evidenced by this sign at First United Methodist Church in Americus on South Lee Street.

approximately five-hour period Monday morning, EMS could not respond to call because of the high winds.

The Sheppard House restaurant in Americus delivered food to the Sumter County Emergency Management Administration’s Emergency Operations Center Tuesday to feed the first responders. Other local businesses also donated food, drinks, etc. over the weekend and Monday.

Hungry Americus firefighters served themselves at the Sumter EMA EOC Tuesday.

A tree fell on Sun Valley Drive at an apartment complex.

Sumter County Emergency Management Administration (EMA) director Nigel Poole, who had been holding twice daily briefings for local emergency personnel since Saturday, was manning the Emergency Operations Center in the old National Guard armory in west Americus.
By around 4 p.m. Monday, the worst had passed Sumter County and people began coming out of their homes only to find most businesses closed in Americus and traffic lights out on major thoroughfares. The clean-up continued Tuesday. Some trees that had fallen across roadways had at least been cleared for traffic, but almost 3,400 of the 11,305 Georgia Power customers in Sumter County remained without power to their homes Tuesday afternoon. Sumter Electric customers numbering 4,800 had lost power from the storn, and 1,011 remained without Tuesday afternoon. Utility crews were not able to get out in the weather until late Monday afternoon to begin repairs. They worked around the clock to restore power to Georgia Power and Sumter EMC customers.
Calls for service concerning power lines down, fallen trees, etc., were fast and furious beginning around 5 a.m. Monday as gusting winds and lashing rains pounded this area. As of 1 p.m. Monday, around 1,000  such calls had been received through the Middle Flint E-911 Center. More calls continued into Tuesday afternoon for fire services related to falling trees and power lines.
Although the American Red Cross did not open an emergency shelter in Sumter County, the Friendship Camp opened for evacuees and a Good Samaritan Shelter was being established early Monday evening at Life Point Church on Ga. Highway 30 West.
As of Tuesday, Poole and his assessment team were out gathering data on damages caused by Irma in Sumter County. The Times-Recorder will post that data in its website when it becomes available.
Also Tuesday, Sumter County Schools, South Georgia Technical College, Southland Academy, and Georgia Southwestern State University remained closed for the second day. Phoebe Sumter Medical Center also closed Outpatient Services and its physicians’ offices on Tuesday, offering only emergency services until Wednesday.
The Andersonville National Historic Site cancelled POW-MIA events scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 13 and Friday, Sept. 15 due to the storm.