Not all of metro Atlanta will have electricity Thursday, and not all children will be back in school. But slowly, the cleanup continues from Tropical Storm Irma, which ripped through the area with powerful winds that brought down trees and power lines.
More than 48 hours after Irma ripped through Georgia, about 480,000 Georgia homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday afternoon, down from about 1.5 million immediately after Monday’s storm. Schools were also affected by power outages, which forced DeKalb County to cancel classes for a fourth day. Some Fulton schools were also forced to close Thursday.
“Safety is key,” DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green said in a news release. “Right now, there are several challenges that present a potential threat to our students such as buildings and homes without power, and fallen power lines and trees. We remain hopeful to reopen our schools and offices soon, but not at the expense of our students and staff.”
Less than 150,000 Georgia Power customers were in the dark Wednesday afternoon, according to the Atlanta utility’s state-wide outage map. About 128,000 of those were in the metro Atlanta counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Cobb.
Georgia Power said Wednesday that it expects to restore power to 95 percent of customers by Sunday night. The utility said it has completed a “full-scale damage assessment” that allowed it to come up with the estimate for restoring service.
In Gwinnett County, the widespread power outages and road closures were beginning to dwindle Wednesday morning, much to the relief of the county’s residents.
By 8 a.m., about 17,500 Gwinnett County customers of Georgia Power or the Walton, Jackson and Sawnee EMCs were without power. That’s less than half of the Gwinnettians who were powerless Tuesday afternoon, and a far cry from the 100,000-plus residents that didn’t have electricity in Irma’s more immediate aftermath. Though the metro area was largely spared from the destruction seen in South Georgia and Florida, clearing highways and roads remained a top priority for transportation crews.
GDOT crews were still working Wednesday afternoon to clear trees blocking highways at 72 locations around the state.
Spokeswoman Natalie Dale said most of the incidents are in GDOT’s District 3, which encompasses west central Georgia. She said that part of the state was hit particularly hard by Irma.
In metro Atlanta, Dale said any remaining blocked highways likely involve downed power lines. GDOT is working with Georgia Power to clear such incidents, but the utility has its hands full trying to restore power to hundreds of thousands of people.
Gov. Nathan Deal said there’s still no cost estimate for the storm’s damage, but assessment teams are in the field working to come up with an initial tally. In an interview Wednesday on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind,” he said he hoped that partisanship takes a “very distant second seat” as federal lawmakers weigh aid packages to Georgia and Florida.
“This is a time to deal with the crisis, to try to restore a state’s economy and try to restore the lives of individuals,” said Deal. “We do not ask for things that we do not need. And I believe that is true for the most of these kinds of emergencies. We don’t over-ask. And if you don’t over-ask, people pay a lot more attention when you do ask.”
Though classes resumed Wednesday for some metro school systems — including Cobb and Cherokee — about half of metro area students got a third day off. Thursday will be the fourth day off for DeKalb, some of Fulton, and several outer-lying counties.
ON THE COAST: Residents can return to Glynn County beginning Thursday
Gwinnett County Public Schools will reopen school Thursday after three straight days of cancelled classes. The district announced via social media that it anticipates all of its schools will resume “normal schedules” on Thursday.
Power had returned by Wednesday morning to all but seven school buildings operated by Atlanta Public Schools, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announced on Twitter. During the storm, 31 APS schools lost power.
As the grueling task of cleaning up after Mother Nature continued, there was one bright spot: the forecast. Partly cloudy skies with a high temperature of 80 degrees is expected Thursday, according to Channel 2 Action News Chief Meteorologist Glenn Burns.
— Staff writers David Wickert, Russell Grantham, Vanessa McCray, Greg Bluestein, Tyler Estep and Marlon Walker contributed to this report.