0

Fast- moving storm batters Clayton, Henry

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Elaine Rackley, Johnny Jackson and Jason Smith

erackley@henryherald.com

A severe thunderstorm blew through the Southern Crescent Monday night leaving behind a trail of downed trees, power outages, damaged homes, automobiles, and two deaths. It also sparked several delays at the world's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson.

Henry and Clayton counties remained under wind advisories Tuesday, following the storms, according to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service (NWS). Weather officials are now trying to determine if the strong northwest winds were actually tornadoes. Winds blew consistently at 15-25 miles per hour, gusting to 35 miles per hour, according to NWS meteorologist Patricia Atwell.

"We're still compiling all of the reports," said Atwell. She noted widespread damage throughout the state would have to be assessed for any signs of tornado activity.

The meteorologist said storm survey crews with the weather service would venture out Wednesday to survey areas of concentrated damage.

Henry County Fire Department Capt. Sabrina Puckett reported two house fires overnight in Henry County, from lightning strikes. Trees fell on 14 houses, and 75 roads were impacted by the storm, including a section of I-75 southbound at exit 216, added Puckett.

"There was a report of wires down on Anvil Block Road," said Clayton County's Assistant Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Landry Merkison, but he said there were no reports of injuries, nor fallen trees.

Butts County Emergency Management officials reported that two people, a father and his son, were killed when a tree fell on a house on Seventh Street in neighboring Jackson, Ga.

High winds wreaked havoc in some areas, leading to damage caused by downed trees and limbs. "Emergency and DOT (Department of Transportation) crews were out most of the night cutting trees off roads, and placing tarps on damaged roofs. All personnel are safe and continued to respond to wires and trees down Tuesday morning," said Henry County's Capt. Puckett.

"One person was trapped in a 'structure;' he was extricated and transported to the hospital for evaluation," she continued.

Donald Fincher, of Stockbridge, said a fallen tree destroyed his father's 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe. "The whole house shook," said Fincher. "A huge oak tree fell on the truck around midnight."

Fincher, 43, said he was talking online with a friend and went to open the window so the friend could hear the storm. "I had just raised the window up, and before I could step away, the next thing I knew the tree was on the truck," he said.

The tree crushed the roof of the vehicle, damaged its hood, shattered the passenger-side windows, and blew out the windshield, added Fincher.

Elsewhere, thousands of Georgia Power customers felt the effects of Monday's storms, said company spokesperson, Carol Boatright. The Southern Crescent, Boatright said Tuesday afternoon, was dealt a particularly severe blow with the storm's combination of heavy rain, high winds, hail and lightning.

"For the metro south area, which does include Henry and Clayton, that is one of the hardest-hit areas in the metro area that we have had," she said Tuesday. "We still have about 9,600 customers who are out of power in Clayton, and about 800 of them in Henry."

She said 441,000 customers -- roughly one-fifth of the state's 2.3 million customers, lost power.

The company, Boatright said, is still working to get power restored to its customers in what she calls a "long, time-consuming process. Just about all of our line crews are working on it, and we are trying to get assistance from other states," she said. "But, several of them have also had problems with the storm, and they don't have anybody to send to us. We've got them out there working, just as fast as they can.

"We had more than 70 broken poles in the metro area alone, and almost 300 statewide," Boatright explained. "Usually, it's a tree that's hit it. They have to remove whatever hit the pole, remove the damaged pole, and bring in a new one and reset it, before they can even begin to re-string wire."

Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation reported, Tuesday, power outages still affecting 4,729 of its customers in 11 counties. At the height of the storm, however, there were approximately 14,711 Central Georgia EMC members without power, according to Christy C. Chewning, a spokesperson for the company.

Central Georgia EMC has an estimated 30 to 40 broken poles in the service territory and has ongoing restoration efforts to restore electric service to these areas affected by the severe weather, said Chewning.

Central Georgia EMC asks if you see a downed power line, stay away, and call Central Georgia EMC at (770) 775-7857, or 1-800-222-4877.

While many residents in the Southern Crescent area were forced to take cover, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport felt the storm's presence, but continued operations. Arlene Salac, spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, said arriving and departing flights, from and to, Atlanta's airport, were impacted by the storm from 8 a.m., to 1:30 a.m.

"There were seven arrival delays and 40 departure delays," said Salac, in an e-mailed statement. The average arrival flight delay to Hartsfield-Jackson was about 23 minutes, she said, and the average departure delay from the airport was 59 minutes.

Now, pleasant weather is ahead, according to NWS forecasts. Winds are expected to die down as sunny skies persist the remainder of the week. High temperatures will climb into the 70s as the week progresses into the weekend. NWS' Saturday and Sunday forecasts call for high temperatures to reach 80 degrees.

-- Staff writer M.J. Subiria Arauz contributed to this report.