With Hurricane Irma bearing down on their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., Sara Rodriguez, her parents and her sister sought refuge with friends in Snellville — 600 miles to the north and a couple hundred miles away from the nearest ocean.
But they would soon discover there was no escaping this storm.
“We had no clue,” Rodriguez, 17, said Tuesday, a pink blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
The previous night, two massive trees fell next door to the Village Court home of Tamara Felizola, the family friend who had taken in the Rodriguez family. The pines took down power lines and snapped a utility pole in half, knocking out power to the whole block and obstructing Felizola’s driveway with a spiderweb of live wires.
The broken pole still sat in the road more than 14 hours later.
“They said this is not a high-priority area,” Felizola, 45, said. “But the whole neighborhood doesn’t have electricity.”
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They were not alone. Significant portions of the metro area, from Snellville to Sandy Springs and Conyers to Cabbagetown, remained in the dark Tuesday, with nearly 900,000 Georgia residents — more than 320,000 in metro Atlanta — still without power as evening approached.
Gov. Nathan Deal urged the state’s residents – and thousands of evacuees from Florida sheltering in Georgia – to stay put on Tuesday as workers remove debris and clear roads damaged by the remnants of Irma. The governor warned that recovery is “going to be a little more slow” because the massive storm touched every corner of the state.
At least three people died as a result of the storm, including a Dunwoody man killed when a tree fell on his house as he slept and a Forsyth County woman killed when a tree fell on her car.
“All things considered, I’m just thankful no one got hurt,” said Dunwoody resident Ken Burnett as he surveyed damage from a 60-foot sweet gum tree that crashed into his mailbox, taking nearby power lines down with it. “It’s going to be a hell of a cleanup.”
DeKalb County appeared to take the brunt of the storm. Dunwoody City Councilman Terry Nall warned the clean-up effort will take time.
“Despite the massive power outage and loss of traffic signals, everyone, so far, seems to be calm, patient, and considerate, especially at intersections,” Nall said. “This will not be a quick fix, as outages are expected to last for several days.”
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday roughly one out of three Georgia Power customers in the county remained without electricity.
Half of DeKalb’s school were also without power late Tuesday. Schools there will remain closed Wednesday, as will the Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton, Cobb and Atlanta school districts.
With children staying home and power out, local merchants prospered, especially those offering creature comforts usually taken for granted.
In East Atlanta Village, damp and sweaty customers squeezed inside Joe’s East Atlanta Village to get their coffee fix.
Software engineer Kyle Woodlock, 33, walked one-and-a-half miles to Joe’s in search of one large café americano and a large café mocha with whipped cream.
It had been a rough night for Woodcock. A massive tree fell near his house, taking out power lines and poles up and down his dead-end street in unincorporated DeKalb’s Eastland Heights neighborhood. His car was stranded behind it.
Traffic was heavy on metro streets as many returned to work, though some roads remained closed, forcing drivers and MARTA buses to find alternate routes. After shutting down operations Monday, MARTA resumed both rail and bus service. The transit’s CEO, Keith Parker, said bus services would increase as soon as blocked roads could be cleared.
Southbound lanes of interstates were packed with Irma evacuees eager to return home, though officials warned it was too soon. Wait another day, GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale cautioned.
“If you’re headed back, you really need to know what you’re headed back to,” Dale said. “A lot of these places in south Georgia and Florida have no power. There are gas shortages. If they get to south Georgia or north Florida and they run out of gas, there’s a good chance they will not be able to get gas.
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“If they can wait one more day, they’re going to be headed back to a much safer area,” she said. But for those who left their homes behind in Florida, one more day was a lot to ask.
It took Maryam Davani Hosseini three hours Tuesday afternoon to drive from Milton to Forsyth. Her GPS kept telling her it would be a nine-hour drive back to Miami, but it had taken her 20 hours to get to Atlanta.
She was hoping to make it to flood-ravaged Jacksonville, where she planned to stay with a friend without a power. Already, she’s been rerouted on to back roads where traffic lights are out, causing backups.
Hosseini’s office won’t open again until Friday, but she’s new to her advertising job, and didn’t want to risk taking advantage of her company. Besides, after staying with friends of the family she’d never met since she evacuated on Thursday, she was ready to be home.
“It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said of leaving Miami without knowing her destination, or whether her home would be standing when she returned. “It felt really weird watching from not home, seeing my street and building on national TV. It was really unsettling.”
Hosseini has been checking Instagram for photos of her neighborhood, to see how bad the damage is. She’s not sure if she has power. She wants to be able to clean out her refrigerator if she doesn’t, and see what shape her neighborhood is in with her own eyes.
“I want to get my head straight before I go back to work,” she said. “Leaving my house and not knowing if I could come home is really stressful.”
The Rodriguez family, stuck in Gwinnett, doesn’t know when they’ll be able to return home. Right now they’re at the mercy of Snellville’s public works crew.
By midday Tuesday, they had cleared trees from seven different roadways, officials said. Village Court remained on their to-do list.
Felizola and her house guests were waiting on Walton EMC, too.
“They said they didn’t have a pole” to replace the broken one, Felizola said. “Can you believe it?”
— Staff writers Tyler Estep, Arielle Kass, Scott Trubey, Greg Bluestein, David Wickert, Willoughby Mariano and Meris Lutz contributed to this report.