Gov. Nathan Deal speaks after a tour of hard-hit areas devastated by Hurricane Irma and its remnants. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Irma aftermath: Georgia governor promises more help is on the way

Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday toured some of the areas hardest hit by the remnants of Hurricane Irma as the state grappled with the enormous recovery — and mounting cost — of cleaning up from the monstrous storm.

The governor surveyed felled trees and blocked roads in North Georgia’s mountains, visited flooded areas and wrecked docks on the state’s coast, and flew over metro Atlanta suburbs debilitated by the damage.

He told reporters at a stop in Cornelia that the storm “virtually covered the entire state and affected virtually every county,” and he warned of a slow cleanup process ahead. And he announced that the state will be providing tax relief to Irma’s victims in Georgia.

“Everybody at every level of government is doing everything they can,” Deal said.

There’s no estimate yet on the cost of the cleanup, but state officials have already appealed to the federal government for financial help. Federal authorities declared a state of emergency in Georgia before the storm, and Deal asked for post-storm assistance after Irma pounded the state.

“We have made all of those requests for federal assistance,” Deal said, “and I think we’ll see very favorable responses.”

The full force of Irma slammed into Georgia on Monday, killing at least two people and knocking out power to more than 1.2 million people. Downed trees and flooding cut off scores of roads throughout the state and left parts of the coast swamped by seawater.

The state also gave taxpayers victimized by Irma a reprieve from some filing deadlines. Residents who make quarterly tax payments have until Jan. 31 to make payments instead of September deadlines. And those who filed for an extension on 2016 returns have until Jan. 31 instead of Oct. 16.

In every corner of the state, Georgians took another step toward recovering from Irma’s wrath. Utility crews pushed to restore electricity to blacked-out homes, neighbors helped neighbors clear roads and anxious parents waited for word on whether their kids’ schools would be open.

Days after the storm hit, parts of Georgia’s coast looked like a scene from a disaster movie.

In Glynn County, residents who slowly returned home through newly opened borders struggled with live wires and trees that covered roads. Half of Georgia Power’s customers in the area were still without power by midday Thursday, and docks along the coast were smashed to smithereens.

The county’s overtaxed sewer system was so strained that the local utility asked residents to stop using water for the time being.

Farther north on Tybee Island, residents continued the painstaking process of repairing damaged homes. Jay Altman, who has lived on the Atlantic coast most of his life, is used to strong tropical storms and hurricanes — but didn’t expect them along Georgia’s shores.

“Never has there been water inside this house,” said Altman, who rents a home and has neither flood nor renter’s insurance. He’s hoping for help from the federal government, but he’s not sure what to expect.

“That’s the price you pay for living in paradise,” he said.

The governor offered some welcome news to stressed-out officials on Georgia’s coast. Typically, the state and local authorities each pay about 12.5 percent of the cost of cleaning up the debris from storms. The federal government pays the rest.

But because the low-lying coastal counties have been hit by a double-whammy of storms in the past year — some residents had only just repaired the damage that Hurricane Matthew caused in October — Deal said the state will pick up the locals’ tab.

And state officials remained confident that more help from the federal government was on the way. Homer Bryson, the head of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said six federal disaster crews will start assessing the cost of the damage Friday.

Meanwhile, stretches of Georgia roads were choked with drivers from Florida who had fled to the north last week seeking shelter from the storm. They faced frustrating gridlock, fuel shortages and nagging worries about how their homes and neighborhoods fared as they made their way back home.

It took Melinda Melendez more than nine hours to slog through gridlock traffic from Valdosta back to her home in Fort Myers on Wednesday — a trip that usually takes about half that time.

After rolling by a litany of billboards that “looked like the Incredible Hulk punched holes in them,” she and her husband and three young daughters arrived home to find they had electricity — and no damage — at their second-story condo.

But they have neighbors who can’t take off their hurricane shutters because they can’t power a drill.

“I just couldn’t imagine no air conditioning,” she said. “It’s like cooking in a little oven.”

In Georgia, most local officials praised the state’s emergency response. Asked about lessons learned from the storm, Deal said state officials have learned to be more prepared — and to have more humility.

“For the longest time, we were able to say that we had not had a hurricane come on shore in the state of Georgia in over 100 years, which was true,” he said. “We probably shouldn’t have bragged that much about it.”

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Staff writers Ben Brasch in Atlanta, Joshua Sharpe in Brunswick and Jennifer Brett on Tybee Island contributed to this article.