Editorial: Teaming up for a power play with Irma recovery

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, many Chatham County residents are clearing debris, addressing flood damaged homes, condos and docks, and welcoming back the thousands of evacuees who are returning home.

 

Meanwhile, many people are doing their best to cope with storm-related power outages. So far, restoration has been coming along well. Getting it fully restored will go a long way in returning the county to normalcy, and it remains the top job here and in other areas of the storm-ravaged South.

This is one time where misery has plenty of company, as Georgians who are in the dark are not alone.

Indeed, while Irma knocked out power to an estimated one million Georgians, Florida was clobbered much harder. An estimated 13 million Floridians, or 62 percent of the state’s population, are off the grid.

On Florida’s east coast, where the flood damage was worse, officials don’t expect power to be restored until Sunday.

On that state’s west coast, which caught the brunt of Irma’s wind, power might be out for another week.

At the same time, it’s uplifting to see so many businesses in this area, local governments, private citizens, and friends and neighbors all pitch in to help with the recovery and make it less stressful. For example, a team of volunteers at America’s Second Harvest food bank assembled and distributed hundreds of free hot meals to hungry people Wednesday.

Several volunteers said they simply were repaying the kindnesses that had been shown to them.

Such selfless acts show this community at its best.

 

Crews making progress

Fortunately, thanks to hard-working crews from Georgia Power and teams of utility workers from other areas, power restoration in this area is coming along fairly quickly. At the height of Irma’s storm Monday, about 78,000 customers in Savannah and Richmond Hill lost power — about 52 percent of Georgia Power’s customers. But by mid-afternoon Wednesday, Georgia Power was reporting 814 outages in Chatham County, which affected 17,183 customers who were without power — a whopping 78 percent improvement in just two days.

The power play by the estimated 1,000 utility workers who have teamed up in this area has been impressive and continues to be much appreciated by the public. Having power is one thing that many people take for granted — until it is gone and they want to take a hot shower, or turn down the air conditioning, or charge their personal electronic devices. Today’s hardships are a painful reminder of the frustration that many people endured last year following the outages caused by Hurricane Matthew. But encouragingly, utility crews have been out in full force and have been working Irma just as diligently as they worked Matthew.

The extent of the power outages after Irma isn’t a total surprise, although the flooding seems worse than what many expected. Irma was a massive storm, as large as the state of Texas.

Fortunately, Georgia Power and other utility companies across the South did the best they could to prepare for the worst. But they could only do so much as many regional crews that might normally pitch in, like Alabama Power, were already helping the Houston area recover after Hurricane Harvey. However, officials from the Southern Company, the parent company of Georgia Power, were busy Tuesday making arrangements for about 1,000 utility linemen to be based in the Savannah area, company spokesman Tim Lowe said. He added he was making similar arrangements for linemen in Clearwater Beach,Fla., to serve that area of Florida. The presence of so many extra crews is encouraging news that will help this part of the country quickly bounce back after Irma and deal with outages in places like Tybee Island, which was especially hard hit.

Tybee, which is connected to the mainland by a two-lane road that was underwater during Irma’s flood surge, lost a major transmission line, along with a number of utility poles and transformers. For a time, even getting help to Tybee was a challenge, which is something Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia Department of Transportation Commission’s Russell McMurry must think about as the state’s road improvement dollars are dished out in the future. Raising and widening the Tybee Road should become more of a state priority.

At the same time, Tybee and state officials will soon have to develop a plan to deal with what may be the island’s biggest loss: its dune line. Irma’s storm surge decimated Tybee’s protective wall of sand. Renourishing the dunes may be more critical than renourishing the beach. Without the dunes, Tybee is relatively defenseless in the face of Mother Nature’s wrath.

 

Welcome back

At the same time, the community welcomes back its 2,100 residents, including many who are elderly and infirm, who were evacuated on school buses Saturday and Sunday to inland shelters in Douglas and Augusta.

Many returned home Wednesday. Savannah owes a debt of gratitude to people in those two communities who opened their hearts and their shelters to care for those who needed shelter from the storm.

Also encouraging has been the large number of businesses that have reopened, especially supermarkets, which will hasten the return to normalcy.

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