Call it The Revenge of the Trees.
Pine trees give life to Columbia County, providing hundreds of jobs to loggers and more to the workers at Pollard Lumber Co. Products milled at the Appling plant provide work for hundreds more in the construction industry as they build homes for residents moving to our fast-growing county.
What the trees give, however, they can take away. Many of those homes were without electricity after Mondays early-morning combination of rain and below-freezing temperatures. Ice on pine trees - and on hardwoods, too - snapped limbs and trunks, dropping frozen wood onto homes and power lines.
As of Tuesday morning, a Georgia Power Co. spokesman said there were still nearly 70,000 households without electricity, with nearly 1,500 workers - hundreds brought in from outside the storm-damaged area - working to clear fallen trees and limbs and mend broken power lines.
Meanwhile, as utility workers braved the rain and cold and dangers of their high-risk jobs, crews from Columbia Countys Roads and Bridges and the Georgia Department of Transportation put sand on bridges, overpasses and icy patches, and moved more of those trees out of roadways. Deputies, many brought in from off-duty shifts, directed traffic in dark intersections as firefighters battled blazes and helped move limbs from homes.
In the midst of all the excitement, a power surge knocked out the county governments phone system - including the phones used by the Columbia County Emergency Management Agency. Anything that can go wrong has gone wrong, said an exasperated Pam Tucker, director of the agency, after hours of coordinating emergency responses with radios and cell phones.
All this work left many county residents second-guessing school officials decision to keep schools open. They should have closed them, said Todd Vaughn of Harlem, just one of many to complain. To me they made a bad call.
Hindsight is pretty clear in such cases, but remember: No weather forecasters predicted the storms impact, and the only thing greeting departing school children Monday morning was cold rain. Only Harlem High School started the day without power; it wasnt until later in the morning that the buildup of ice took a toll on those pine trees and widespread power outages occurred.
Besides, school officials dont take lightly the decision to shut down a system that houses more than 19,000 children. Sending those children home Monday, and keeping them home Tuesday, also meant a sudden, unexpected inconvenience for those childrens parents and caregivers. That had to be taken into account, too.
Just as Columbia County makes homes from those pine trees, we can make a positive experience from what was really a mild storm. Its a good reminder that every home should be equipped with emergency supplies. It may be fun to run out to the grocery store when the power goes out, but no one should have to panic from lack of preparedness.
Once all the power is restored and things are back to normal, it would be a good time for everyone to put together emergency kits.
And to perhaps trim a few pine trees.
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