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High winds knock out power to thousands

By Curt Yeomans and Johnny Jackson

cyeomans@henryherald.com

Martha O'Kelley was startled by the ruckus next-door to her home, in downtown McDonough.

"I heard it fall," she said. "I figured it was a tree, but I didn't know it was the famous Griffin Street White Oak."

High winds on Wednesday split the massive tree at its trunk, forcing it down, blocking O'Kelley's street, Griffin Street (Ga. Highway 42 South) in downtown McDonough, a main thoroughfare through Henry County.

"I walked under it every day," added O'Kelley. "I used to stop and just look up the branches. It's going to be missed."

O'Kelley was without power much of the day. On its fall, the tree destroyed a power pole and transformer located just across the street, leaving several blocks in the city without power for several hours, as Georgia Power crews worked to clean-up the mess and make repairs.

The fallen tree was one of several such wind-blown incidents and power outages throughout the Southern Crescent on Wednesday.

There were some 1,320 reports of power outages in Clayton and Henry counties, of the 8,000 reports in metro Atlanta. McDonough alone accounted for 870 reports, the largest number between the two counties, according to Georgia Power Spokesman Jeff Wilson.

"Most, if not all, of those outages are due to trees, or limbs falling down because of high winds," Wilson said. "The numbers keep fluctuating, because it seems like every time we get power up in one area, a tree or a limb falls somewhere else, causing another power outage."

The winds, which blew through the area Wednesday, trailed recent rain storms. Robert Beasley, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said the rain traveled in front of a cold front that pushed through metro Atlanta, resulting in strong wind gusts.

At 12:22 p.m., wind gusts of 40 knots, which translates to roughly 45 miles per hour, were recorded at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, according to Beasley. However, he added that the airport always records the highest gusts because of its layout and elevation.

"I would say most of Fayette, Clayton, Henry, Fulton and DeKalb counties had winds in the area of 35-40 miles per hour," he said.

The McDonough area received an estimated 0.8 inches of rain during the 24-hour time frame leading into Wednesday morning. There was about 1 inch of rainfall recorded for Stockbridge, 1.02 inches for Hartsfield-Jackson, and 1.15 inches for Jonesboro during the same period.

Wilson said the problem of fallen trees came from the rainfall, which softened up the ground and weakened the roots of trees, which then fell because of the high winds.

Clayton County Fire Department Battalion Chief Landry Merkison said Clayton residents were spared the brunt of the damage. The department received one call for assistance at about noon - a tree fell on a house in Forest Park. No one was injured.

No injuries were reported in McDonough, either.

McDonough police officers closed off Griffin Street to through traffic to allow several Georgia Power trucks access to reconnect downed power lines and remove the fallen oak tree. The city worked with Milan's Tree Service to remove the tree.

'We're just lucky that no one was driving down the street or walking down the sidewalk," said McDonough Police Chief Preston Dorsey.

Charles Thomas and Richard Hutchins were among the first to see the fallen tree in McDonough. They rushed to see if anyone was injured shortly after they saw the tree had fallen.

"It was loud, and there were lots of explosions," said Thomas, the senior pastor at McDonough First Baptist Church across the street.

"It was kind of a light show," he said of the exploding transformers. "It definitely made interesting, what otherwise would be just a plain day."

Being without power most of Wednesday, the church was forced to cancel its Wednesday evening fellowship dinner and Bible study. Several businesses on The McDonough Square were also forced to close temporarily because of the power outage.

"I was on the phone with a customer, and the phone just went dead," recalled Adrienne Tripp, an employee of Summer's Furniture Restorations on Macon Street in McDonough.

No disruptions were experienced at Henry County State or Superior courts, but McDonough's administrative offices experienced a power outage.

According to Casey Case, media relations spokesperson for the city, the lights went out at around 11:45 a.m. and stayed off until about 2:30 p.m. The building's employees gathered in a first floor office near a source of daylight, until Georgia Power workers restored electricity.

Staff writer Valerie Baldowski contributed to this report.