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Storm does blow hard
But we are still standing
She did not pack the wallop that she gave our neighboring state of Florida or even the hit other Georgia counties endured, but Screven County was glad to see Hurricane Irma leave Monday evening.
Irma passed over the area on Sept. 10-11 with blustery winds and heavy rain, said Ben Tapley, the Screven County fire chief and EMA director.
Officials and other residents from various fields and professions pulled together to create a plan the provided safety and assistance to citizens.
The Screven County School System was closed on Monday and Tuesday. The City of Sylvania and Screven County governments also were closed those two days, but emergency personnel worked throughout the ordeal.
City and county personnel used chain saws at multiple locations to slice up downed trees.
At least three Good Samaritan-type shelters were opened up in the community for those who sought lodging.
Much like when a more damaging Hurricane Matthew struck Southeast Georgia last year, buses transporting evacuees from the Savannah area used the Screven County Recreation Department as a rest stop.
Syl-View Rehabilitation and Memory Center provided a shelter for residents of a “sister” nursing home from Ridgeland, S.C. When Irma turned more west, the Ridgeland nursing home residents were transported back to their facility.
After the storm’s strong winds blew through the county and dumped up to 8 inches of rain, then residents began to remove fallen trees and limbs from their property on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Several events in the county were canceled or postponed.
The Class AA No. 3-ranked Screven County Gamecocks football team was scheduled to visit the Statesboro Blue Devils was canceled after the Bulloch County schools canceled classes on Friday plus the coming Monday and Tuesday.
The SCHS-SHS game will not be rescheduled because there is no open date suitable for both teams.
SCHS will play at home Friday, Sept. 15, against region foe Butler. Preliminary talks are ongoing about possibly scheduling a game on SCHS’s open date of Oct. 6 with possibly a school that too had its Sept. 15 canceled because of Irma.
As of the Sylvania Telephone’s press time, no Oct. 6 game, however, had been announced. If no other game can be scheduled, the Gamecocks will be left with only nine regular-season games instead of 10, but all the Region 4AA games remain on schedule.
Fifty-five local emergency partners came together on Sept. 9 to coordinate the preparations and response to Hurricane Irma, Tapley said.
“Extra units were brought in at all public safety agencies to ensure all citizens could be served,” Tapley said.
The Emergency Operations Center activated at 9 a.m. on Sept. 10 and remained operational till Sept. 11 at 10 p.m. Fire units responded to numerous calls with the city and county for downed trees and power lines.
Tapley said the Sheriff’s Department and Roads and Bridges along with municipalities cleared all of the roads by Monday night.
“Roads and Bridges for the county is still working on making sure all debris is being removed from right-a-ways,” Tapley said.
Tapley said two Good Samaritan shelters -- Bethel Brick Church and Life’s Hope Church -- opened up on Sept. 10 and housed a total of five people. The City of Victory church also opened as a Good Samaritan shelter.
“As of Wednesday, Sept. 13, we have only one report of structural damage to a residence,” Tapley said. “That person has been put in contact with American Red Cross. Damage has been minimal even though we still had around 800 residences still without power on Wednesday.”
The total of customers out of power was a reported less than 200 by Wednesday night.
“As EMA director, it made me proud to see so many people show up for the stakeholder meeting,” Tapley said. “EMA strives to build those relationships before disasters occur to ensure that all citizens are served at the highest level. We did just that and we will strive to do better each time we come together. Thank you to everyone in Screven County for coming together to get the job done and for what we continue to do to get everything back to normal.”
Randy Hill, the member services manager for Planters EMC, said the crews were starting back up restoring power at 6 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14.
“We should be able to get everyone that can be turned on restored by late Thursday afternoon, unless something critical happens,” Hill said. “Crews are continuing to work on individual outages today (Thursday), which includes replacing many blown fuses. This is a slow process that requires them to go from one account to another.”
As of the Sylvania Telephone’s press time, Planters EMC had a total of 108 members without power. In Screven County, 75 were without power; Burke County 25; Jenkins County seven; and one in Richmond County.
Many local grocery and convenience were emptied of food supplies in case Irma caused extended power outages. The bread shelves were cleared out for days as some stores limited the number of loaves of bread that could be bought.
While bottled water also was in high demand, local stores stayed rather well stocked with water before and after the storm.
Most residences were fortunate that downed trees and limbs did not collide with their homes, but Sheena Oliver and Jackie Moore were not as fortunate on Quail Hollow Road.
A tree struck their roof, making their residence unlivable for them and their three young children. Currently they are staying with family.
They also want to thank New Home Welcome Church pastor Rev. Rountree for opening up his doors to them.
“The phone calls and prayers are great warmth to the heart,” Oliver said.
For those who would like to donate and assist the family, they may call 912-425-1436. The three small children are a size 3T (7 shoe), 5T (12 shoe) girls and boys size 8 (4 shoe). Any donations can be dropped off at the New Home Welcome or at the Sylvania, Telephone office.
Sylvania Mayor Preston Dees said he was pleased to report that the city had very little power interruption during tropical storm Irma this week.
“As always, city crews worked diligently to restore electrical outages quickly,” Dees said.
There were approximately 31 customer reports of loss of power. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 11, almost all power was restored. Dees said “the great majority of our customers never lost power.”
“The outages were mainly due to some broken poles and a couple trees that fell,” Dees said. “In total, the man hours spent assuring all city customers had power was about 12 hours spread over Monday and Tuesday and a final repair on Wednesday.”
Dee said the city attributes “the significantly low number of outages to the hard work of our utility line cutting crew Chris Reddick and Russ Johnson.”
“They have worked very hard over the last year to make sure all the lines were trimmed in order to reduce possible outages caused by limbs and trees on the lines. This shows what a difference it makes when city crews have access to city right-of-ways to do the proper maintenance trimming,” Dees said.
Dees said he wants to thank the customers for their patience during outages and their willingness to work with our crews in making the right-of-ways accessible.
The mayor went on to say, “… how well our city departments work together in times like this. The combined efforts of our utility crews, tree trimming crew, public works department, with their efforts to collect residential trash and clean up our streets, along with our police and fire departments handling routine and emergency situations make everything go more smoothly. In all, I have to say all agencies to include the Screven County EMA, Screven County Board of Education, Screven County, and the City worked very well together to prepare ahead of time for Irma and throughout the duration.”
Dees had double -- and maybe triple -- duty during the storm.
Screven County Schools Superintendent William Bland said schools’ safety team lead by Dees, who serves as the school safety director.
Bland said Dees “was monitoring conditions closely all last week.”
“We are a part of the NWS information system and our local EMA group and held daily meetings to review the latest information,” Dees said. “Up until late last Thursday, we were very concerned about the impact on this part of Georgia. Once the predictions started making a turn to the west beginning with the 5 p.m. release of data from NWS, we began feeling a little more comfortable that we would not have the major impact we once thought. However, we still knew there would be some impact here with a high potential of high winds and rain starting on Monday morning. Not knowing the extent of the impact and conditions of the roads and power outages, the safety team decide to error on the side of caution and cancel school for Monday and Tuesday.”
Then the school system began to evaluate on whether if Wednesday would be a viable day for students and staff to return to classes.
“On Tuesday morning, Safety Director Preston Dees, Operations Director Chip Weaver, and myself met to evaluate the roads and power outage for the county. With phone input from other administrators and safety team members, the decision was made to return to school on Wednesday,” Bland said. “I want to thank our safety team for the conscience and diligent work in making sure the safety of our staff and students comes first. I also want to thank our EMA Director Ben Tapley for his leadership through this event.”
Ray Hicks, the county extension director for Screven County, said local agriculture only received minimal damage.
“I think the good Lord blessed us,” said Hicks, who noted that farmers could not afford to have the large scale damage that was caused by last year’s Hurricane Matthew.
The county did receive 30 to 40 mph winds and rain between 5 to 8 inches in various parts of the county, but Hicks said the fields mostly held up during the storm. The rain was over a 10 to 12-hour period.
Hicks said most of the corn already had been harvested.
As for cotton, Hicks said it depends on which field you see. Some were worse than others.
“It was really a field-by-field basis,” Hicks said, “but it is nowhere near as bad as Matthew. We did not need another Matthew.”
Hicks said the younger cotton crops looked to have fared better.
After traveling around the county, Hicks said he saw downed limbs and some downed pecan, pine and oak trees, but nothing serious.