Hurricane Michael: Damage in Georgia is ‘phenomenal’

Tropical Storm Michael swept out of Georgia before sunrise Thursday, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

The powerful storm claimed the life of an 11-year-old girl in southwest Georgia, which appeared to have borne the brunt of Michael's wrath.

Utility crews around the state are scrambling to restore power to more than 300,000 customers.

Michael charged into Georgia Wednesday night, packing 115 mph winds. It was the first Category 3 hurricane to make a direct hit on the state in more than a century, according to Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz.

The storm weakened as it churned in a northeast arc through the state’s largely rural midsection, downing trees and power lines in its path.

President Donald Trump is expected to visit the area next week to survey damage from the storm, and Gov. Nathan Deal encouraged him to come see the damage for himself.

“It is still very early in the process, and many of the agencies are still in the assessment stage,” Deal said early Thursday. He urged residents to be patient and to let repair crews begin their work.

Georgia Department of Transportation crews were working to clear at least 127 incidents where state routes are blocked. Interstate highways are clear, but it could be several days before all state routes in southern Georgia are open, a spokeswoman said.

Thursday morning, farmers were assessing the destruction to their crops. At least 53 poultry houses had been wiped out in Coffee, Houston, Mitchell, Wilcox and Decatur counties, officials said.

10/11/2018 -- Albany, Georgia -- Ron Smith cleans up broken limbs and debris from his yard a day after Hurricane Michael passed through Albany, Thursday, October 11, 2018.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency declined to comment on the scope of the damage, saying they needed more information.

In Seminole County, an 11-year-old girl became the  state's first — and, so far, only — known casualty of the storm. County authorities said the child died after some type of debris crashed into her home.

By Friday evening, at least 16 deaths had been blamed on Michael across the Southeast.

In Albany on Thursday, daylight revealed Michael’s might: 100 intersections blocked, 24,720 customers without power, trees toppled on houses, siding wrapped around light poles, and the glass blown out of the downtown convention center.

“It represented an unprecedented amount of damage,” Dougherty County Commission chairman Chris Cohilas said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Officials said a National Guard Unit was on its way. So were 45 lineman crews and 18 more tree-cutting crews.

Five local shelters have been opened.

The area dealt with nasty tornadoes that ripped up trailer parks in January 2017, but that was isolated to mostly trailer parks and this is widespread.

“The damage to our infrastructure is phenomenal,” Cohilas said.

Despite the destruction, officials in Dougherty had no reports of fatalities.

At Woodall’s gas station near downtown, the man himself, Brooks Woodall, stood in the parking lot waiting for police to arrive.

From the looks of it, a brick smashed his glass door. He said he emptied the register before the storm, but there were still snacks and smokes to grab.

Woodall estimated it would cost $50,000 to replace the canopy.

Terrance Davis, who has lived in Albany all his 25 years, rode out the storm at home off Jefferson Street.

He said they lost power about 7 p.m. Wednesday. Trees covered most of the road in front of where he lives.

“These past few years are the worst,” he said, referring to the January 2017 tornadoes that tore up whole neighborhoods in Albany.

Roosters sounded off Thursday morning as neighbors checked on each other.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Michael makes landfall, leaves destruction behind

FULL LIST: School and business closings

Michael had lost much of its punch and was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrived in Macon overnight, bringing wind gusts in excess of 50 mph.

The Middle Georgia city was left with widespread power outages, about three dozen downed trees, and widespread relief that the worst had been avoided.

By 5 a.m., the rain had stopped and the winds had subsided in Macon.

Macon-Bibb Emergency Management Agency spokesman Chris Floyd feared Michael's wrath would exceed that of Tropical Storm Irma last September, which left 100,000 cubic yards of debris in its wake, closing 229 roads.

"We won't know the full extent of the damage for a little while," Floyd said.

A tornado touched down in Crawford County, about 35 miles southwest of Macon, leaving seven homes damaged. But there were no reported injuries.

Eastern Georgia missed the brunt of Michael’s destruction.

In Toombs County, between Macon and Savannah, the storm passed through with 36 mph winds, including gusts up to 48 mph.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, the known scope of damage was about 15 trees blocking roads, a tree falling into a house in Lyons, and a downed power line near the county line in Vidalia.

Residents reported two explosions at a Georgia Power substation early Thursday.

A fallen tree blocks Old Vidalia Lyons Road in Toombs County. Emergency crews are working to clear debris from Hurricane Michael. Photo: Johnny Edwards/AJC

Credit: Johhny Edwards/AJC

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Credit: Johhny Edwards/AJC

More than 5,500 households in Toombs, or about 20 percent of all residents, were without power early Thursday. But both Georgia Electric Membership Corporation crews and sheriff’s deputies were waiting until daylight to survey the damage, according to EMA Director Lynn Moore.

After a downed phone line became tangled in a passing patrol car’s blue lights, the sheriff’s office pulled its cars off the roads.

This cotton crop was battered by Michael in Moultrie, Ga. Agriculture officials estimated only 5 percent of Georgia's profitable cotton crop had been harvested before the storm arrived Wednesday. Photo courtesy: Georgia Agriculture Commissioner's Office

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“We know we’ve got some trees in the road,” Moore said, “we just can’t get out and get to them yet.”

-For a detailed forecast, visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution weather page.

-Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Arielle Kass, Joshua Sharpe and David Wickert contributed to this article.