A splintered utility pole and downed power lines on Forest Court in Columbia County was typical of the problems caused by the ice storm that swept through the area. Emergency officials and utility repair crews worked day and night to restore electricity to customers after the storm.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
It all started last Sunday night with an innocuous "advisory" from the weather service that there was a "possibility" of some rain and freezing rain during the early morning hours on Monday and ending by mid morning.
It all ended with a significant winter storm that left tens of thousands of people without power, thousands of downed trees, property damage, the opening of public shelter, closed schools and businesses and hundreds of dedicated people who deserve to be recognized for seeing the community safely through it all.
With Severe Weather Awareness Week approaching during the week of February 22-28, now seems like a good time to show appreciation to those dedicated people, as well as remind our citizens to be prepared for possible power outages that result from severe weather events.
The Columbia County Roads and Bridges Department and Georgia Department of Transportation crews were in the streets at 2:30 a.m. Monday removing trees and applying salt and gravel to the numerous bridges and overpasses throughout the county for more than 35 hours straight in freezing temperatures. Because of them, our roads were safe for travel and not a single injury was reported.
Georgia Power Co. dispatched crews immediately when trees started taking out power lines on Monday morning. They coordinated a multi-state response and worked diligently day and night under extreme time constraints and in freezing temperatures to get power restored for around 50,000 homes and businesses throughout our county as quickly as possible.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office monitored road conditions around the clock and coordinated a well-organized response. They kept us advised of hazardous conditions, assured motorists were safe from downed power lines and safely waved hundreds of people through busy intersections where traffic signals were out. Saving lives and preventing injuries earns them a great deal of thanks.
All of the fire departments responded to numerous fires, helped with tree removal and performed many other tasks to help people during the emergency. The Martinez Fire Department also responded to provide generator support for our special needs citizens who use medical equipment.
More help came when R.E. Shearer Jr., vice president of R.E. Shearer Construction Co., walked in our door at the Columbia County Emergency Operations Center office and offered heavy equipment and manpower to help with tree removal from the roadways, at no cost to the county. His crews worked tirelessly in freezing temperatures to assist in getting our roads cleared.
Wesley United Methodist Church is one of our most recent facilities to become a Red Cross certified shelter. When we asked them to activate the shelter to provide a warm place for those without power, they were ready in minutes. They also offered the assistance of their "mission trailer" with volunteers set up to help anyone with branch and limb removal and hot coffee.
The Augusta Chapter of the American Red Cross serves several counties in our area. In a widespread event such as this winter storm, they are requested to operate shelters by many counties. But there was not a second of hesitation when we asked them to operate a shelter for Columbia County, too. We are extremely grateful that they are always there when we need them.
Mr. and Mrs. William Caskey and County Commissioner Tom Mercer brought food for the EOC staff without even being asked. These "random acts of kindness" were appreciated very much by some very hard-working folks toiling around the clock to help citizens get through this emergency.
When the power outage caused our telephone system to malfunction, the Columbia County Information Technology Department worked all day to get the system back up and running. Lewis Foster and his staff deserve a lot of praise for their dedication.
And last but not least, County Administrator Steve Szablewski and our county commissioners provided assistance the entire time, making sure we had what we needed to help people out. It's this kind of support that makes loyal employees.
We've seen winter storms blasting the Northeastern states in the past few weeks, but we never think that it will happen to us here in the good old South.
It did happen and it will again. Be prepared when it does.
Make sure that you get your home equipped with some basic emergency supplies, such as bottled water, non-perishable food, battery operation radio, flashlights, extra batteries and a NOAA alert radio. Portable generators are expensive, but worth their weight in gold during power outages.
For more information on emergency supply kits and disaster preparedness, call our office at 868-3303, or e-mail us at email@example.com.
(Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency Services Division.)
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