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Georgia power outages: Latest updates from Georgia Power after Irma

Nearly 1.5 million Georgia Power and EMC customers were without power

Georgia Power Outage Map/Sept. 11, 2017 after Irma
Georgia Power Outage Map/Sept. 11, 2017 after Irma

ATLANTA – Irma weakened to a still-deadly tropical storm as it swirled beyond Florida, killing at least three people in Georgia, flooding the coast, sending trees crashing onto homes and forcing the world's busiest airport in Atlanta to cancel hundreds of flights.

The former hurricane remained an immense, 415-mile (668-kilometer) wide storm as its center moved on from Florida Monday afternoon, giving its still-formidable gusts and drenching rains a far reach.

Some 540,000 people were ordered to evacuate days earlier from Savannah and the rest of Georgia's coast. Irma sent 4 feet of ocean water into downtown Charleston, South Carolina, as the storm's center passed 250 miles (400 kilometers) away. City officials urged residents to stay off the streets.

In Atlanta, people nervously watched towering oak trees as the city, 250 miles inland, experienced its first tropical storm warning.

The body of a 62-year-old man who climbed a ladder behind his home was found under debris on the roof of his shed in southwest Georgia, where winds topped 40 mph (65 kph), Worth County sheriff's spokeswoman Kannetha Clem said. His wife had called 911 saying he'd had a heart attack.

"He was lodged between two beams and had a little bit of debris on top of him," Clem said. "He was on the roof at the height of the storm."

Another man, in his 50s, was killed just outside Atlanta when a tree fell on his house, Sandy Springs police Sgt. Sam Worsham said.

And a woman died when a tree fell on a vehicle in a private driveway, according to the website of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office.

Charles Saxon, 57, became South Carolina's first recorded death when he was struck by a tree limb while clearing debris outside his home in Calhoun Falls amid wind gusts of about 40 mph, according to a statement from Abbeville County Coroner Ronnie Ashley.

Communities along Georgia's coast were swamped by storm surge and rainfall arriving at high tide Monday afternoon. On Tybee Island east of Savannah, Holland Zellers was grabbing a kayak to reach his mother in a home near the beach.

"In the street right now, the water is knee-to-waist deep," Zeller said.

Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen said waters were receding quickly, but many of the 3,000 residents' homes were flooded.

"I don't think people who have lived here a long time have ever seen flooding this bad," Gillen said.

The tidal surge sent damaged boats rushing more than three blocks onto downtown streets in St. Marys, just north of the Georgia-Florida state line, St. Marys Police Lt. Shannon Brock said.

Downtown Atlanta hotels remained full of evacuees. Many milled about the CNN Center, escaping crowded hotel rooms in search of open restaurants. Many were glued to storm coverage on the atrium's big screen. Parents pointed out familiar sites, now damaged, to their children.

"We've been here since Friday night, and we're ready to go home" to Palm Beach County, Florida, Marilyn Torrence said as her 4-year-old colored.

Power outages dropping in Georgia after Irma

UPDATE: The number of power outages continues to drop in Georgia after the remnants of Hurricane Irma stormed through the state, claiming at least two lives.

Less than 600,000 Georgia Power and Electric Member Corp. customers are still without power early Wednesday. The utility companies said they are continuing to assess damage as power is restored.

The utility companies say repairs and replacement of downed powerlines could take several days.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal lifted an evacuation order Tuesday for nearly 540,000 coastal residents. He cautioned that recovery could take longer because the storm affected the entire state.

A man was killed when a tree toppled on his house in Sandy Springs, Georgia. The 67-year-old Nancy Eason died after a tree fell on a vehicle in which she was riding in Forsyth County.

Here's the latest power outage updates from Georgia Power:

 

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Georgia's governor has lifted a mandatory evacuation order for 540,000 people in six coastal counties.

Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday in a news release that he lifted the order after the Georgia Department of Transportation inspected 49 state bridges that were affected by Tropical Storm Irma. The governor said it is now up to local authorities to decide when the residents who live in their areas may return home and to provide appropriate guidance.

Deal says recovery could take awhile because damage occurred across the state, not just in coastal communities. More than 1.2 million Georgia Power and Electric Membership Corp. customers were without power Tuesday morning.

The utility companies said they would continue to assess damage as power is restored. Alabama Power reported 20,000 outages mostly in eastern Alabama as the remnants of Irma toppled tree and power lines, but didn't cause major damage. The utilities said repairs could take several days.

In Atlanta, falling trees and limbs may pose the most significant threat to life and property.

Amy Phuong, parks and recreation commissioner for the city, says six crews already were handling calls for felled trees around the city Monday afternoon, as winds and rain began to intensify.

Phuong says the crews expect to stay busy as Irma passes over the area and in the storm’s aftermath.

About half the city’s land area is covered by trees -- a larger share than most urban centers

Georgia’s coast was largely empty after evacuations were ordered for the second time in less than year. The coast’s nearly 540,000 residents fled last October ahead of Hurricane Matthew, which caused an estimated $500 million in damage and killed three people.

The National Weather Service said flooding rains were a major concern Monday, with 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 centimeters) of rainfall predicted in southeast Georgia. Downtown Savannah saw winds Monday strong enough to make palm trees bend and sway.

Further inland in Lowndes County near the Georgia-Florida line, firefighters rescued occupants of a few homes struck by falling trees, said county spokeswoman Paige Dukes. No serious injuries were reported. With wind gusts reaching 70 mph (112 kph), officials ordered a daytime curfew for the 112,000 residents of Lowndes County, which includes Valdosta.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority suspended all bus and rail services Monday and would decide later whether to resume operations Tuesday, spokesman Erik Burton said.

Georgia Power spokeswoman Holly Crawford said Monday the areas with the most power outages were coastal Glynn and Chatham counties. She says the utility company had about 3,400 employees on standby to respond, but cautioned repairs could take several days.

___

Bynum reported from Savannah. Associated Press reporters Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this story.

Irma kills 3 in South Carolina and 2 in Georgia

The remnants of Hurricane Irma forced Atlanta's international airport - the world's busiest passenger airport - to cancel nearly 200 flights early Tuesday. The storm also claimed three lives in South Carolina and two in Georgia.

The flights canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport put the total number of interrupted trips there due to Irma at about 1,300, spokesman Andrew Gobeil said. The airport remained operational, with flights taking off and landing. However, some passengers were forced to spend the night at the airport. Gobeil said he didn't have the exact number.

Meteorologist Keith Stellman said Atlanta's airport recorded sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph) with gusts up to 64 mph (103 kph). The National Hurricane Center said it expects Irma to drop 5 inches to 8 inches (13 to 20 centimeters) of rain across South Carolina and the northern regions of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi through Tuesday.

Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal lifted a mandatory evacuation order for six coastal counties. The order allows local authorities to determine when residents may return home.

Deal called the storm an "unusual" in that it affected the entire state, rather than being localized.

For that reason, Deal said, recovery "could be a bit slower."

"This is a different kind of natural disaster. We have not had one like this in the state of Georgia for a long time," Deal said in a news conference on Tuesday.

More than 1.2 million Georgia Power and Electric Membership Corp. customers were without power Tuesday morning. The utility companies said they would continue to assess damage as power is restored. The Alabama Power reported 20,000 outages mostly in eastern Alabama as the remnants of Irma toppled tree and power lines, but didn't cause major damage. The utilities said repairs could take several days.

In Atlanta, people nervously watched towering oak trees as the city, 250 miles inland, experienced its first tropical storm warning. Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority resumed full service Tuesday.

Weakened into a tropical depression after strafing the Caribbean and Florida, Irma still had enough force when it swirled into Georgia to cause significant damage.

Heavy rain and strong winds caused flooding along the coast, downed power lines and sent trees crashing onto homes. Traffic flowed easily on normally jammed Atlanta highways.

In Georgia, a man in his 50s was killed just outside Atlanta when a tree fell on his house, Sandy Springs police Sgt. Sam Worsham said.

A woman died when a tree fell on a vehicle in a private driveway, the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office said on its website. Martin Eason said in an interview with the AP that the victim was his mother, Nancy.

Some 540,000 people were ordered to evacuate days earlier from Savannah and the rest of Georgia's coast. Irma sent 4 feet of ocean water into downtown Charleston, South Carolina, as the storm's center passed 250 miles (400 kilometers) away. City officials urged residents to stay off the streets.

Charles Saxon, 57, became South Carolina's first recorded death when he was struck by a tree limb while clearing debris outside his home in Calhoun Falls amid wind gusts of about 40 mph (64 kph), according to a statement from Abbeville County Coroner Ronnie Ashley. Another man was killed in a wreck on a wet and windy interstate as Irma moved past. Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said 21-year-old Zhen Tain died in the crash on Interstate 77 just east of Columbia.

Sumter County Coroner Robert Baker Jr. said 54-year-old William McBride was pronounced dead Tuesday of carbon monoxide poisoning. Baker said McBride had been running a generator inside his mobile home for at least several hours, with only a single window cracked for ventilation.

Communities along Georgia's coast were swamped by storm surge and rainfall arriving at high tide Monday afternoon. On Tybee Island east of Savannah, Holland Zellers was grabbing a kayak to reach his mother in a home near the beach.

"In the street right now, the water is knee-to-waist deep," Zeller said.

Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen said waters were receding quickly, but many of the 3,000 residents' homes were flooded.

"I don't think people who have lived here a long time have ever seen flooding this bad," Gillen said.

The tidal surge sent damaged boats rushing more than three blocks onto downtown streets in St. Marys, just north of the Georgia-Florida state line, St. Marys Police Lt. Shannon Brock said.

In Alabama, hotels remained full of evacuees, most coming from Florida. A convoy of 180 FEMA trucks carrying relief supplies began making its way to Florida.

Electric companies get pollution waivers

State and federal environmental regulators have issued a blanket waiver for Florida electricity companies to violate clean air and water standards for the next two weeks.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the decision in a letter issued Monday as Hurricane Irma blew through the state. The agency said the so-called No Action Assurance granted through Sept. 26 will provide Florida utility generators needed flexibility to maintain and restore electricity supplies.

The assurance letter will allow utilities to operate outside restrictions mandated by their permits, including potentially using dirtier fuels, running for longer hours or electively bypassing pollution-control equipment.

The Associated Press reported last week that air pollution levels spiked in the Houston area after a similar enforcement waiver was granted to petrochemical facilities ahead of Hurricane Harvey.

Survivors, relatives, volunteers connect online for Irma aid

Social media has been a game-changer for Americans coping with natural disasters. Worried relatives, generous volunteers, frantic neighbors, even medical providers are going online to establish contact and send help.

When will Florida get gas after shortage following Hurricane Irma?

Communicating is difficult because Hurricane Irma wiped out electricity and cell service to communities across Florida. Of particular concern is the Florida Keys, where remote islands have been cut off.

But Facebook's Safety Check feature is letting people tell friends and family they're OK. And many people are using Zello, a walkie-talkie application, to get word out about their conditions through other people who are able to spread word online.

Governor says lots of damage in Keys

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he flew over the Keys and saw a lot of flood damage and boats that had washed ashore.

He says there is "devastation" and he hopes everyone who stayed behind survived Irma. He said almost every mobile home park in the Keys had overturned homes.

Scott also flew over the west coast of Florida on Monday and said the damage was not as bad as he thought it would be.

EPA grants pollution waiver to Florida utilities after Irma

State and federal environmental regulators issued a blanket waiver on Monday for Florida electricity companies to violate clean air and water standards without penalty for the next two weeks.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the so-called No Action Assurance granted through Sept. 26 came at the request of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The letter said the move will provide Florida utility generators needed flexibility to maintain and restore electricity supplies in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The EPA said the move was in the public's interest.

Florida's Division of Emergency Management said about noon on Monday that 6.52 million utility customers in the state were without power. That's more than 65 percent of all electricity customers.

The EPA's assurance letter will allow utilities to operate outside restrictions mandated by their permits, including potentially using dirtier fuels, running for longer hours or electively bypassing pollution control equipment. Coal-fired plants can also discharge wastewater laced with levels of toxic-heavy metals at higher concentrations than what would normally be permitted.

The utilities are still required to monitor and report the levels of regulated contaminates in their air emissions and water discharges, according to the letter.

The Associated Press reported last week that air pollution levels spiked in the Houston area after a similar enforcement waiver was granted to Texas petrochemical facilities ahead of Hurricane Harvey's arrival.

Irma claims dozens of lives across Caribbean, United States

The scope and scale of misery caused by Irma continues to grow, including its human toll. Irma, at one point the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, has claimed the lives of dozens of people across the Caribbean and southeastern United States.

Victims include two women in Havana who died when a balcony fell on a bus in which they were riding. A Florida jailhouse guard and sheriff's deputy died after their vehicles collided. A 2-year-old child on Barbuda died when his body was swept away after his home's roof ripped off and the structure filled with water. A

Barbados teen died while surfing as the massive hurricane churned hundreds of miles away.

After Irma, Florida's evacuees contemplate return trip

 

Thanks to reconnaissance by a neighbor who stayed behind, Pam Szymanksi knows Hurricane Irma blew out the living room window of her southwest Florida home, but she isn't sure when she'll get to see the damage for herself.

"All I know is we have to check out of here tomorrow, because they're booked," she said Monday, sitting in the lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel where she arrived with her mother, two children and two dogs. A hotel reservation in Valdosta, Georgia, is next, Szymanksi said, but that's still 350 miles (563 kilometers) from their home in Fort Myers.

"I don't want to run into closed roads," she said, "but I want to get home and start cleaning up."

Szymanski's family helped make up one of the largest storm evacuation efforts in U.S. history, after Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged more than 6.5 million residents, one out of four of his constituents, to leave.

Now, with Irma advancing inland, a potential reverse migration from across the Southeast raises new worries of jammed roadways amid uncertain gasoline supplies, empty grocery store shelves, standing water and widespread power outages that in heavily damaged areas could last for weeks.

Scott cautioned evacuees not to rush back home.

"Storm impacts can continue well after the center passes," the governor said from his official Twitter account, asking residents to follow local officials' advice on when to return. He later retweeted FEMA's warning that Irma involves "disruptions to daily activities" long after it passes.

That's not necessarily a message Floridians want to hear, even as they contemplate reliving the daylong and overnight drives they endured just days ago.

Carin and David Atkins of Pinecrest, Florida, were waiting out Irma on Monday, planning to leave their Atlanta hotel Tuesday morning to head back down the Florida peninsula with their children, Molly and Thomas. The Atkinses said they have hotel reservations near Cape Canaveral, more than halfway back to their home outside Miami.

"I've called to confirm they have power," David Atkins said, adding that some businesses near their home have power as well.

Carin Atkins said they can live without power at home for several days, recalling that they went 47 days without power after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. They evacuated, she said, only because of the threat of rising water from a storm surge that didn't reach to their home.

Other evacuees still aren't as sure of their return.

Stephanie Clegg Troxell was near Nashville, Tennessee, where her family caravan includes three cars and a trailer, five adults, five children, 13 dogs, three mini-horses and a pet pig. The trek from New Port Richey, Florida, north of Tampa Bay, took more than 17 hours, beginning last Wednesday.

Troxell said her husband stayed behind and now is working with friends to remove a tree that fell on the roof of their house. They also had no power.

"We don't know when we're leaving and now there's another hurricane coming," Troxell said, referring to Jose, which was offshore. "I'm trying to sneak out when it's not 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour-plus winds."

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Rea Argonza was worried about money as she mapped out her return plans.

"Staying here, it's been like a financial strain," said Argonza, who traveled with her husband and five children from St. Augustine, Florida, to two hotel rooms 500 miles  (805 kilometers) away near the Wake Forest University campus. "We're up to almost a thousand dollars now. I do believe this whole expedition is going to be almost $3,000."

In some cramped quarters, there were parties.

Argonza celebrated her 32nd birthday in North Carolina. Troxell's daughter celebrated her 13th birthday Monday in Tennessee on a trip that's featured visits to the state fair, some nearby waterfalls and the Opryland complex.

But the joys of an unplanned excursion may not extend to 70-pound (32-kilogram) swine. Tank, the Troxell family pig, appeared homesick because he can't lounge by the pool like he does at home. "He's missing his tropical scenery," Troxell said.