Sleet and freezing rain sent emergency crews and power companies scrambling Wednesday as ice-coated trees brought down power lines across the region.
Georgia Power had 132,848 customers without electricity statewide. The majority of the outages were in the Atlanta area. At 6 p.m., Richmond County reported 20,004; Columbia County, 7,987; Burke County, 3,743; and McDuffie County, 608.
As of 4:30 p.m., more than 11,000 Jefferson Electric customers were experiencing outages.
Georgia Power spokeswoman Amy Fink said that although crews from Texas, Ohio, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama were called to help, it was still having difficulty getting power back on for
Steve Chalker, spokesman for Jefferson Electric, said crews found themselves in a recurring loop, returning to the same areas for new problems as trees and branches kept falling and lines kept snapping.
“It’s a very daunting task,” he said, “but we want everyone to know we’re working.”
Greg Lewis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Columbia, said that Augusta had been hit with about a half-inch of ice by Wednesday afternoon and that a quarter-inch more was expected.
Lewis said sleet and some freezing rain would continue through midnight Wednesday and there was the possibility of snow with little to no accumulation at the end of the storm.
Although the bulk of the precipitation should stop before today, Lewis said travel could remain dangerous until temperatures rise above freezing sometime this afternoon.
Mie Lucas, the disaster preparedness coordinator of Richmond County Emergency Management, said 911 lines were tied up Wednesday with people calling in weather-related issues, such as iced-over roads, downed electric lines and fallen trees.
She also said members of the National Guard stationed at Augusta’s Emergency Management Division were brought in to help with tree cleanup but have also assisted in towing vehicles.
“The National Guard has a great deal of equipment, as well as ideal vehicles, to help us handle this type of situation,” she said. The Air National Guard team from Savannah had 88
Both Richmond and Columbia county emergency management teams spent the day responding to calls and monitoring and salting bridges and main roads as ice continued to accumulate.
Rusty Welsh, the deputy director for Columbia County Emergency Management, said county road crews were continuously working to keep bridges salted and main roads cleared as the ice built up.
“They are doing what that can to keep the roads operational, but we still want people to stay off the roadways if at all possible,” he said. “They are still extremely dangerous.”
The primary issue has been falling tree limbs and downed power lines, but Welsh said utility companies seemed to have staged enough crews to keep up with larger outages.
“So far, we have been fortunate that power outages are being restored pretty rapidly,” he said.
Low temperatures were expected to cause icy roads to freeze overnight, making driving even more hazardous this morning.
Welsh urged those who do have to go out to use extreme caution and watch for falling ice and tree limbs.
“Based on what we have heard, it’s not going to warm up until ... midday,” he said. “Be careful for black ice and take it slow.”