Storm affected more than 36,000 customers; Georgia Power catching up

Credit: Michelle Kerr / AJC

Credit: Michelle Kerr / AJC

A combination of freezing rain and gusting winds walloped much of the state this weekend, causing power outages for tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

Georgia Power said it restored power to more than 50,000 customers after freezing rain and snow swept through the area Friday night. The Atlanta utility appeared to be well on the way to restoring power to other affected customers after gusty winds Saturday morning caused ice-laden trees to fall or drop limbs on power lines, unleashing another wave of outages.

The number of affected customers roughly doubled in an hour Saturday morning, from about 8,000 at 8 a.m. to more than 15,000.

But by 2 pm Saturday, the utility had restored power to all but about 3,500 homes and businesses, according to Georgia Power's outage map.

Metro Atlanta had the largest number of outages, with more than 4,500 affected customers, according to Georgia Power’s map. The hardest-hit areas were in the northern and western parts of metro Atlanta.

Saturday afternoon, Christy Sloat and her two children, 8-year-old Julian and Ella, 12, were holed up in an upstairs bedroom because it was the warmest spot in their Atlanta home.

"I'm trying to find any activities for the kids that don't involve screens," said Sloat, because their home had been without power since about 4:30 a.m.

That's when, four houses down the street, a large, two-trunked tree fell in two directions, she said. It took out her neighbor's fence, three cars and the power lines and pole, knocking out power to the neighborhood.

"All the sudden there was just a huge crash," she said.

She said Georgia Power crews had been working on the downed tree since morning, and had a replacement pole ready.

"I'm hopeful that we'll have power in a few hours, because it's getting pretty cold up here," she said.

Customers of smaller utilities were affected as well.

Georgia EMC, which represents 41 electrical utility cooperatives in the state, said about 1,500 customers were hit with power outages. The organization said electricity was expected to be restored today to affected customers.

Georgia Power did not have an estimate for when power will be restored to all customers, but said it was making progress.

"(We) have already restored well over 50,000 since the storm began, with about 5,000 remaining," Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said. "Most of the remaining outages are newer outages from today's continuing winds."

Kraft added, "As always, we also remind everyone that there are downed wires caused by this storm, so please stay far away from any fallen or low-hanging lines."

Kraft said about 1,200 Georgia Power employees and out-of-state contractors were working to repair power lines in metro Atlanta.

Earlier in the week, Kraft said the utility had notified crews to be ready to respond to outages caused by falling trees and downed lines if the winter weather brought freezing rain and accumulating snow.

Freezing rain is the biggest threat to power lines. Snow, which is what forecasters initially expected, typically causes less damage if it isn't accompanied by ice and freezing rain.

Georgia Power usually doesn’t pre-position crews before a storm, Kraft said, because the company doesn’t know where the worst damage may occur, and it already has local crews in most parts of the state.

Georgia Power’s winter storm tips:

Before A Storm

* Stock up on non-perishable foods, water and medications.

* Charge needed electronic devices and have flashlights, a battery-powered radio and fresh batteries on hand.

* Prepare older family members, friends or neighbors who live alone for the weather and possible power outages.

During A Storm

* Disconnect or turn off appliances you were using when the power went off. Leave a porch light switched on to help crews in the field quickly assess repair efforts, and one inside so you know when service is restored.

* Avoid opening refrigerators or freezers. Food will stay frozen in a fully loaded freezer for 36 to 48 hours if the door is closed. In a half-full freezer, food will keep 24 hours.

After A Storm

* Never touch any downed wire or low hanging wires - it can kill. Telephone or cable TV wires that touch a power line can be deadly. Remind children who may be home from school and playing outdoors. Report the location of any downed or low hanging line to Georgia Power at 888-891-0938 or call 911.

* Never try to make your own electrical repairs to Georgia Power equipment. Let our crews do dangerous work.

* Never pull tree limbs off power lines.

Tools You Can Use

* Outage Map - Housed within the Outage & Storm Center at this outage map link, Georgia Power's interactive Outage Map provides near real-time information, allowing users to see where outages are occurring across the state and track estimated restoration times. A popular destination for customers, the Outage Map logged an estimated 1.2 million-plus views in 2015.

* Outage Alerts - Customers can sign up for free outage alerts by text, phone or email to stay informed about outages and repair estimates. Visit this Outage and Storm Center link for details.

* Georgia Power Mobile App - Download the Georgia Power free mobile app for Apple and Android devices for storm and outage information on the go. Use the app anytime to access account information and mobile bill payment options, as well as energy efficiency tools.

* @GeorgiaPower on Twitter - Follow @GeorgiaPower on Twitter for storm tips, outage updates, customer service and more.