“The major roadways all seemed to be moving very well,” Deal said to a crowd of Atlanta reporters who arrived at Daniel Field airport just ahead of Deal on a Georgia Army National Guard helicopter.
Deal extended through Sunday the state declaration of emergency that affects the area. He spoke Thursday with Federal Emergency Management Agency, Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security officials to determine whether the storm response “rises to the level that would trigger federal financial assistance to the state,” according to spokesman Brian Robinson.
In metro Augusta, a “significant National Guard presence,” including 156 members and 41 vehicles, had been deployed to assist, Deal said.
Though as much as 75 percent of area Georgia Power customers remained without electricity at the time of Deal’s visit, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he was “pleasantly surprised” by what they had seen from the air, that about 95 percent of roads were clear.
Across Augusta, “no neighborhood was singled out” or spared damage and power outages from what appears a “once-in-a-lifetime storm” for the area, he said.
Asked to compare the state’s response to the storm to the Atlanta snow two weeks ago, Deal said drivers in Augusta stayed home as instructed.
“The greatest difference is we had cooperation from the public,” he said. “It is really miraculous that we have not had fatalities on our roadways with as much snow and ice that we’ve had.”
As soon as Georgia Power gets a downed major transmission line back in service, power will likely be restored to many in the area, Deal said.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross thanked National Guard Lt. Col. Bobby Christine for coordinating the Guard response in Augusta.
Georgia Department of Transportation board member Don Grantham, of Augusta, praised the department’s decision to deploy 48 vehicles from elsewhere in the state to ensure that state-maintained roads were clear and safe. Interstate 20 and other main roads never had to be closed, Grantham said.
Grantham, whose home was one of thousands that remained without power Thursday, said the response had pulled the community together.
“We have seen so much community effort,” he said.
Interim Augusta Administrator Tameka Allen said many local emergency, law enforcement and traffic personnel had been working all night, doing “a tremendous job” to keep the public safe. Allen said she expected cleanup from the storm to “take awhile” but had no immediate estimate.
Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said downed power lines remain a tremendous hazard and urged residents to stay away from them and off the roads.