Gov. Nathan Deal struck an optimistic tone Wednesday as temperatures plunged and sheets of ice blanketed North Georgia, but warned the public not to be “deceived” by gaps in the storm.
He said the state’s cautious efforts have paid off and that officials have stockpiled enough salt, sand and other resources to respond to the sprawling ice storm that has dumped snow and freezing rain across the South. Transportation officials were shifting crews eastward to prime for the storm as it rumbled through.
Deal said it’s too early to know yet when drivers can safely return to the roads or whether schools should be shuttered again on Friday. But he said he’s hopeful that residents can take away some positives from the time at home, such as time to bond with children or finish a book.
“We are a resilient state. We are a resilient people. And we will bounce back,” said Deal, adding: “Life will return to normal as soon as this storm is over with.”
Yet tens of thousands still remained without power and more punishing waves of snow and ice are on the forecast. The governor’s office said two people have died during the storm - a 50-year-old Butts County man and a 63-year-old Whitfield County woman. And sheets of ice still make driving a perilous prospect.
“People who think they can drive on ice are probably sadly mistaken,” said Deal, who closed the state government on Thursday. “The best thing they can do is to stay off the roads unless it’s absolutely necessary. The most important thing is if this is what we think — ice and power lines coming down — don’t try to drive on the streets.”
Stocks of salt and sand to treat slippery roadways are being replenished, partly from supplies from South Carolina and Tennessee. Deal’s emergency order covering 91 counties stretches until Friday, and the governor urged school administrators to take caution as they consider reopening classrooms later this week.
The all-out government response is notably different than the public preparations to the Jan. 28 snowfall that paralyzed metro Atlanta. The governor waited then until hours after gridlock seized Atlanta’s highways to sign an emergency order, and many school systems added to the mayhem by keeping their classrooms open.
This time, Deal has sought a more proactive response that has involved frequent press conferences, sweeping emergency orders and a staggered release of state workers hours before the first snowflake even fell. He said the effort has already paid dividends.
“In terms of what I am hearing and seeing, we are in about as good of shape as we can be,” Deal told his top deputies at a briefing early Wednesday.
Forecasts show the storm starting to relent by Thursday morning but there’s still no telling when the roads will be clear, and many residents with fresh memories of agonizing commutes in January are reluctant to risk a repeat. The governor urged them to sit tight a little longer.
“Thanks to the people of Georgia,” he said. “You have shown your character.”
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