Wind, heavy rain blow through Clayton

By Ed Brock

Tommy and Pauline Higgins' rabbits were very nearly Clayton County's casualties of the remnants of downgraded Hurricane Frances.

The bunnies, A.J., Gus and Camille were in their hutch in a sunroom on the back of the Higginses' home on Darrell Court outside Morrow when the storm's winds blew down a sizeable oak tree in the Higginses' back yard. All three animals were left under the wreckage, but the Pauline Higgins was able to pull them all free alive.

"I had to crawl under and get Gus," Higgins said.

On Tuesday the remnants of Frances made a slow, steady march northward Tuesday, spinning off waves of storms in Georgia that toppled trees, flooded roads and left nearly half a million residents without power.

There were 30 accidents reported in Clayton County, six with injuries, none life threatening, said Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner. In addition, some traffic signals were down, further adding to the storm problems.

And also on Tuesday Hurricane Ivan was blowing through the Caribbean, posing a possible future threat.

In the Atlanta area 270,000 customers were out of power on Tuesday and 70,000 of them were on the south side of the city, Georgia Power spokeswoman Amoi Geter said. In Clayton County some 58,000 homes were without power Tuesday afternoon, but crews were working methodically to restore power, Clayton County Emergency Management Agency spokesman Vacal "Vac" Caldwell said.

For the most part, however, Clayton County got lucky, Caldwell said.

"We've have had a lot of trees across roads and down in subdivisions," Caldwell said. "Luckily we don't have much damage."

The Higginses were the only report of a downed tree damaging a home. Tommy Higgins said he and his wife and children were sound asleep when the tree, which had already been leaning and due for a trim, crashed down around 5:30 a.m. onto the sunroom and pool, one limb piercing the roof of the family room.

"I just heard the roots when it cracked," Higgins said.

Since all the companies he called were too busy, Higgins called up his friends Rodney Carter and Bernard Malone and together they began carving up the tree and laying tarps over the holes in the roof. Higgins said his insurance company told the family it would be Wednesday before they could assess the dollar loss from the damage.

The storm hit pretty hard at Carter's house on Rex Road as well. He said early in the morning he heard the strong wind blowing and took his family down into the basement. By dawn he surveyed the damage.

"It looked like the hurricane hit there," Carter said. "All my chairs got thrown into the pool."

Lawrene King and her family on North Shore Drive near Jonesboro woke to find a large tree in their yard had fallen, too. Half of the tree fell away from the home, narrowly missing the wall at the entrance of the North Shore subdivision and coming to the edge of Walt Stephens Road.

The other half fell onto North Shore Drive and blocked the road until a neighbor came out and cut up enough of it to clear the road.

"We're grateful it didn't come the other way," King said.

She was hoping that the county would come eventually to remove the tree, but she's also hoping to keep a little for firewood.

"That's good wood," King said.

King's daughter 9-year-old Adria King said the fallen tree was shocking, but she made the best of it.

"I was directing traffic (around the tree)," King said. "It was fun."

With power out at some Clayton County schools and the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center, the school system canceled school Monday, spokesman Charles White said. As with all severe weather situations, the school system continuously monitors the situations and makes a decision on whether or not to cancel school by 5:30 a.m. the morning of school.

As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, Babb Middle School, Brown Elementary School, Lee Street Elementary School, Mt. Zion Elementary School, Mt. Zion High School, Mundy's Mill Middle School, Pointe South Elementary School and the performing arts center were without power, White said. Georgia Power officials assured him, though, that they would work through the night to restore power.

No school facilities suffered damage from the weather, but complicating matters were downed trees and dangling power lines which made it unsafe for students and employees to travel to schools, he said.

"We are not going to sacrifice the safety of our children for a day of school," White said.

Clayton College & State University showed little effects from the weather, university spokesman John Shiffert said. Other than a little extra pine straw strewn about and a few minor tree limbs down, the university was untouched.

Since Monday served as a faculty work day at the university, there were no classes scheduled and, therefore, no classes were canceled.

By Tuesday morning the National Weather Service station at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had measured 2.27 inches of rain, said NWS meteorologist Nate Mayes. They were expecting another one to three inches to fall by Wednesday.

Some areas of the state had received more than four inches of rain, Mayes said.

On Tuesday afternoon the center of the storm was near Columbus, and Mayes said there is a 70 percent chance for rain today with the weather clearing by tonight and Thursday morning.

The Weather Service is still tracing Hurricane Ivan, which by Tuesday afternoon was a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 115 mph that were beginning to buffet Trinidad and the Windward Islands.

"It's kind of on the same line that this one came up," Mayes said, adding that it is too far away to predict where it will come ashore.

By Tuesday evening Ivan was growing slightly with winds of 120 mph and was east, southeast of Granada, NWS meteorologist Mike Leary said. It is building toward Category 4 strength and is currently expected to head toward Havana, Cuba by Sunday. From there it may go out into the Gulf of Mexico, but Leary also said it is too early to predict that storm's exact path.

Staff writers Greg Gelpi and Justin Boron and the Associated Press contributed to this article.