Bainbridge narrowly avoids what could have been a natural catastrophe

Published 6:21 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2017

More than a thousand people woke up Monday morning without power.

Hurricane Irma had downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way through South Georgia in the early hours of Monday morning, generating winds of up to 50 mph and dropping 6 inches of rain.

Trees were knocked down, damaging power lines that were connected to people all over Bainbridge and throughout Decatur County. Limbs and branches were littered across the roads. Some street signs were lying flat on the ground. Buildings had damaged roofs, including Potter Street Elementary School, and storefronts around downtown were beaten.

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None of it was as bad as what Decatur County had prepared for.

“From all the predictions (the National Weather Service) was giving us, we were going to get the blunt of the storm,” said Decatur County Emergency Management Director Charlie McCann. “We didn’t get the full fury of what we thought we were going to get.”

Sunday evening, thousands went to bed in Southwest Georgia ready for the worst. The National Weather Service said tropical storm force winds of up to 110 miles per hour were almost certain. The projection of the storm’s path looked like it would come almost straight through the Decatur-Grady county region.

Instead, Irma churned into Georgia towards the East, hitting Lowndes County hard. McCann said once the storm hit the dry air, it began to disperse. Weather experts predicted the hurricane to lose force quickly once it came onto the U.S. mainland, but thankfully for Decatur County, it lost enough power to not affect our corner of the state too badly.

“We’ve had a little bit of minor roof damage to Potter Street Elementary,” McCann said. “The biggest thing is power outages and trees down. That seems to be the biggest issues that we have.”

Very few cars traveled on Bainbridge roads Monday as the city asked for residents to remain indoors for emergency responders and servicemen to have as much clearance as they needed to do their jobs. Parking lots that are normally seen as busy such as the ones at Walmart, Winn Dixie and Home Depot were devoid of vehicles. Many gas stations wrapped their pumps in plastic to protect them.

As the rain lightened going into Monday afternoon and the wind settled, it became clear Bainbridge had avoided what could have been a disaster.

“We did our best to make sure we had everything lined up in accordance,” McCann said. “We partnered with the Salvation Army to open a shelter.”

Other shelters were opened around Bainbridge and Decatur County to protect evacuees and those whose homes were considered unsafe for tropical storm conditions. 

Decatur County Public Works Director Dennis Medley said the county work crew was out all day Monday removing trees from roadways. As of Tuesday morning, every road was passable in the county. Medley said the county plans to chipper shred the trees and branches.

As of press time Tuesday, Georgia Power is still working to restore power to hundreds of locations around Bainbridge and Decatur County.

After school was closed Monday and Tuesday, it resumes Wednesday morning.