Not everyone hid from Tropical Storm Irma’s wind and rain in Georgia

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Not everyone hid from Tropical Storm Irma’s wind and rain in Georgia

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Mark Niesse
Herb Lugsdin loaded up on the necessities beer and a lotto ticket. Mark Niesse Photo/MNIESSE@AJC.COM

The hunt for everything from batteries to beer started early Monday and continued through the afternoon in metro Atlanta, as Irma plowed through the region with tropical storm-force winds after strafing Florida as one of the largest hurricanes on record.

Reporters from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution fanned out over the region, and here are a few of the real-people stories of struggle and last-minute shopping they found.

Severe Weather Team 2's Glenn Burns has the latest on Irma's path through Georgia

Beer and lottery tickets

Herb Lugsdin loaded up on the necessities before the brunt of Tropical Storm Irma arrived: beer and a lottery ticket.

Lugsdin, shopping at the Kroger in downtown Decatur, said he’s prepared to wait out the storm at home and is expecting to lose power.

“I have food cooked and refreshments ready,” he said, pointing to a 12-pack of Budweiser.

Lugsdin said he drove through heavy rains and severe winds to get his wife to a doctor’s appointment in Covington.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said.

— Mark Niesse

Take a walk on the wet side

Phil Lunny, 69, and walks 5 miles a day and was determined to get his miles in Monday afternoon when he was conked over the head by the 6-foot branch. Here’s a poem he wrote to recount Monday’s experience.

So there was a break in the rain

And a walk for my steps to attain

But lo and behold

A branch was so bold

To hit me in the head

But I’m not dead

And you might want to wear a hard hat

If you want to go out and chat

As the wind blows

Just so you knows

The limb will hit you

Before it comes into view

— Bo Emerson

September 11, 2017 Atlanta: Rob Granberry passes the cranes on Fourth and West Peachtree streets in Midtown Atlanta on Monday, September 11, 2017 as tropical storm, Irma began to make its presence know in Atlanta on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017.  JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

New spin on cranes

Looking up in Midtown or along the Beltline near Ponce City Market, the towering sight of what’s jokingly called Atlanta’s unofficial bird — the construction crane — is hard to miss.

When Hurricane Irma slammed South Florida, turning some tower cranes into crumpled piles of twisted metal, while winds pushed others into an eerie spin, it’s only natural to wonder about the cranes hovering over Atlanta.

Irma’s winds, which are expected to batter metro Atlanta with gusts potentially of 70 miles per hour or more, should be well below the designed capacity of the massive cranes, which the Associated Press reported are typically designed to withstand sustained winds well in excess of 100 miles per hour.

Ryan Saulsbury, a senior project manager at Holder Construction, the company building the massive State Farm campus in Dunwoody, said his crews started to secure the two tower cranes on the site near Perimeter Mall starting on Thursday. The Holder team removed banners from the masts and horizontal arms, and they also lowered the boom on a large mobile crane on site.

The tower cranes are built on a concrete foundation, Saulsbury said. They take a few days to erect, but far longer to take down. Saulsbury called the collapsed cranes in Miami “terribly unfortunate,” and said there just wasn’t enough time for crews there to remove them.

“Based on the forecasted winds we’re supposed to receive … the way they’re designed, the winds will be well below what their design capability are,” said Ryan Saulsbury, a senior project manager at Holder Construction, the company building the massive State Farm campus in Dunwoody.

The winds in Miami, he said, were above those thresholds.

The cranes are designed to “weather vane” in the wind, meaning they’re supposed to spin.

— J Scott Trubey

“I scream, you scream…”

Atlantan Ben Casadonte, who said he was a student at the Coastal College of Georgia in Brunswick, had driven back to Atlanta late last week to escape the coming storm. But instead of lounging around his parents home on Monday as high winds and rain pelted Atlanta, Casadonte was pulling a shift at the Peachtree Hills Baskin Robbins where he’d worked in high school.

Casadonte said the shop had been busy a good bit of the day, with parents bringing in clusters of kids who were kept home from school because of the storm.

“I guess they’ve all got cabin fever,” Casadonte said.

— Kristina Torres

Just what the doctors ordered

Staff at Christian’s Pharmacy in Forest Park were busy filling prescriptions and handling calls from doctors’ offices during the noon hour as they prepared to close at 2 p.m. But not all retailers in the area were quite as clear about closing for the day, leaving some employees confused about when or if they would be told to leave early. One employee at a north Clayton Publix said she was mainly worried about trying to drive home in the wind and rain, forecast to worsen throughout the afternoon and into the evening. At a Costco near Mt. Zion Boulevard, one worker said “I can’t believe we’re open. All the other stores around here are closed already.”

— Mandi Albright

Save the PB&J for another day

Thom Bell and Sarah Martin started preparing for Irma’s impact last week, stocking their Berkeley Park apartment with water, nonperishable food and dog food on Thursday.

Both Bell and Martin grew up near the ocean — Bell on the Jersey Shore and Martin in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — so they weren’t too worried about what the storm might bring. They made sure to have extra batteries in case they lost power, Bell said.

“We’ve seen much worse in terms of storms, but power is a concern because we know Atlanta has so many trees,” Bell said.

Working from home Monday afternoon, Bell didn’t see anything out of the ordinary from his fourth floor apartment, but was armed with a fridge full of leftover pizza in case of emergency.

“Cold pizza is always better than peanut butter and jelly,” Bell said.

— Amanda C. Coyne

Business as unusual, almost

In Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood, it was business as unusual during the lunch rush at Dakota Blue restaurant Monday.

Owner and Grant Park resident Alan Conner was pressed into cooking duty after an employee who relies on MARTA couldn’t work because of cancelled service related to Irma, he said.

Conner said his employee didn’t understand why MARTA would prevent so many people from getting to work when it was only raining. “She was frustrated and apologized profusely,” Conner said.

Conner said the lunch crowd was sparse as people hunkered down over reports of tropical-storm force winds. With the lights already flickering and conditions predicted to worsen, Conner said he would probably close in late afternoon.

“I would hate it if an employee drove all the way in and then the lights went out and we had to close,” Conner said.

— Carrie Teegardin

Atlanta firefighters work to clear a downed tree on 14th Street near Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL Branden Camp

Irma feels like `snow day’

The trees were starting to bend at their tops and the rain came in gusts outside the Ace Hardware store at the corner of Juniper and 7th street in Midtown. Inside was a haven of bright light and soft music.

Owner Zach Stafford wouldn’t exactly admit he was glad to see Irma sweep through, but he didn’t deny it was good for business.

“We’re here to help when people need us,” Stafford said. “A lot of gas can requests, a lot of flashlights, batteries, pretty much sold out of water, tarps.”

The store has also been selling chainsaws, sand and sandbags to evacuees from Florida intending to take the supplies home, where stores are likely to be sold out.

A few blocks away, Midtown residents Steven Norris and Matthew Pierce are gleefully filming a mostly deserted, wind-battered Peachtree Street.

Both men work for Georgia Tech, which is closed Monday and Tuesday. “It feels like a snow day,” Norris said.

— Meris Lutz

Florida student takes `evac-cation’

The fancy restaurants were all closed. So were many of the fast food joints. So Lauren Seyranian, her boyfriend and his sister hunkered down at the Waffle House by Centennial Park.

Seyranian, a 21-year-old student at Barry University in Miami, fled south Florida last week to stay in a downtown Atlanta hotel.

A first-time visitor, she hit the tourist attractions over the weekend: The Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park.

“We all called it an evac-cation,” she said . “I don’t mind the rain, but we’re not used to every store being closed.”

Seyranian doesn’t regret her decision to bivouac in Atlanta, though she’s nervous about her school.

“I’m hoping to go back to a dorm room that’s not rubble,” she said.

— Greg Bluestein

`You can see their anxiety’

Tevin Lanier, 26, moved to Atlanta to make his mark as a cinematographer, but he’s working at a downtown Atlanta hotel to pay the bills. And what he’s seen so far as Hurricane Irma chugged up Florida’s spine has made for plenty of drama.

The hotel has been flooded with visitors chugging in from Florida and Georgia’s coast in need of refuge. “We’re dealing with a different sort of crowd – you can see their anxiety,” Lanier said.

He said he repeats a mantra to himself as he tries to calm fraught customers: “Be patient. Put yourself in their shoes.”

— Greg Bluestein

Gas, snacks (and alcohol)

The Valero station on W. Howard Avenue in Decatur stayed open — and busy — as Irma began to make its presence felt Monday afternoon.

Customers shuffled in and out of the crowded parking lot to fill up their cars up and make sure they had enough snacks (and alcohol) to outlast whatever the storm would bring.

Manager Venus Patel said it was an easy call to stay open: “It’s a neighborhood store, and I know there’s a lot of places that are out of stock,” he said

— Tyler Estep

`Get your cats’

On a normal Monday afternoon, Katie Carey would be working as a research administrator at Emory University’s public health school. But since Irma forced most schools in metro Atlanta closed, the recent Cincinnati transplant was holed up at Vickery’s Bar and Grill.

Carey’s friend, Hannah Wells, had convinced the Smyrna resident to weather the storm with her in Atlanta.

“She took pity on me, and told me ‘Get your cats,’” Carey said. So she folded up the camping chair on her patio, packed up Jeeves and Spot, and considered herself prepared.

Wells told Carey it was time to leave when the lights started flickering, but nearly a dozen customers remained in the bar.

Co-owner Karen Ney said Vickery’s would stay open as long as they had power .

Ney’s reasoning: People may not be able to get to work, but they’ll find a way to get to a bar.

— Becca Godwin

Speaking of cats, have you seen this one?On Monday afternoon, Irma evacuee Cindy Voelz waited for word of her missing cat, Coco. The calico escaped from the Englewood, Fla. resident’s car Thursday during a traffic accident at I-285 and Flat Shoals Road. 

Coco was last spotted in a low, wooded area along a creek that’s designated as a flood plain, Voelz said. The humane traps that a local animal lover had set to help find the cat could easily become inundated, drowning any animal caught inside. 

Someone needed to disarm the traps. Voelz was injured in the wreck and couldn’t do it on her own. 

“I walk just five steps and I’m dizzy,” Voelz said. 

Fortunately, a small army had gathered to help her. As the winds picked up in the early afternoon, the local animal lover who set the traps went to the crash site to disarm them and search for Coco one last time before the worst of the storm, Voelz said. Voelz had been taken in by an old friend who happened to live in Lilburn. He visited the crash site every few hours – even in the middle in the night – to find the cat. 

Voelz’s sister Dianna Kaminski of Indiana posted ‘Missing Cat’ notices online, which have been shared hundreds of times. Strangers who live in the area where the cat was last seen gave searchers permission to enter their yards. A reward for Coco’s return now stands at $100. 

“The main thing is just to rescue Coco,” Voelz said.

-- Willoughby Mariano

‘I’m not close to being done’

On Monday morning, the people who homeless advocate Marshall Rancifer tried to help get shelter were already soaked and frustrated. The usual locations — Atlanta libraries and churches — were closed and many had been wandering the streets for hours looking for a place to stay dry.

“By 11 a.m. they were fed up trying to get help,” Rancifer said.

During two days of outreach work, Rancifer visited with more than 200 people, he estimated. Some stayed in the woods behind the East Lake Publix. Others huddled under the Hill Street Bridge. A few took shelter inside vacant and crumbling Bankhead apartments. All were unsafe from the storm.

A group that lives behind Atlanta Metropolitan State College decided they’d fend for themselves.

“They said, ‘We’re fine. You go on help someone else’,” Rancifer said. “They’re very self-sufficient.”

Even if Rancifer managed to get all of them indoors, there weren’t enough beds for them anyway. One he relied was nearly full by noon. Another had closed because of the weather.

The worst was yet to come. By the time Marshall headed home to change into dry clothes at 2:30 p.m., the wind was blowing so hard that rain went sideways, he said. Stoplights swung at 30-degree angles.

Rancifer was ready to head out again within an hour. He planned to go to the city’s west side. There were retirees who lived in homes so rickety that they needed to stay somewhere else.

“I’m not close to being done,” he said.

— Willoughby Mariano

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