Georgia governor urges patience as cleanup begins after Michael

Business owners in Bainbridge hold back tears when they see damage up close

By Erik Avanier - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer, Associated Press

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday urged people in the Hurricane Michael disaster area to "be patient."

He said emergency crews need to do their work to clear debris from roadways and restore power to hundreds of thousands of residents. Deal said about 450,000 power outages were reported in Georgia, and one death, that of an 11-year-old girl in the southwest corner of the state.

Deal said the primary mission at this point is to clear roadways so that officials can assess the damage.

Deal on Tuesday issued an emergency declaration for 92 Georgia counties, making all state resources available to local governments and entities within the impacted area of the hurricane. Wednesday morning, Deal placed 1,500 Georgia National Guard members on standby to be deployed as needed to areas affected by Hurricane Michael.

School systems and some government offices in dozens of Georgia counties will remain closed Thursday, including in Brantley, Camden, Glynn and Ware counties.

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black predicts long-lasting damage to the state's farms. He said pecan crops were badly affected and entire fields of cotton were completely wiped out.

The Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, packing 155 mph winds. Forecasters said it was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Florida's Panhandle and to move across South Georgia in history. 

Michael thrashed Georgia as a hurricane and eventually weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday. Despite the downgrade, the storm was still pounding the Southeast with heavy rains, winds and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.

After reports of several possible tornadoes touching down in Georgia, National Weather Service crews went out Thursday to examine the sites. Weather Service meteorologist Matt Sena said Thursday they include sites in Pike, Peach and Crawford counties and an area near Atlanta in Fulton County.

Widespread damage in small Georgia town

In Bainbridge, a small city in Georgia about 38 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida, a News4Jax crew on Thursday found widespread damage from hurricane winds, including lots of large trees blocking the road and power lines.

The little more than 12,000 people who live in Bainbridge were without electricity. According to poweroutage.us, more than 236,000 customers in Georgia remained without power as of 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

Some business owners held back tears as the saw the damage up close for the first time Thursday. Along Broad Street in downtown Bainbridge, broken glass, fallen walls and ripped-apart rooftops were evidence of a disaster. 

Business owner Kacee Franklin was picking up the pieces after Hurricane Michael swept through, damaging a dance studio that had been in her family for 62 years. 

“It was just overwhelming and tears (were) definitely flowing," Franklin said. This (dance studio) is a lot of good memories for a lot of people in this community.”

Just across the street, Betty Dias was assessing the damage to the building in which she owns a consignment shop. She had been at that location less than a year. 

"I put in a lot of hard work, just like everybody else," Dias said. "It's just very sad."

The damage has made it impossible to run her store. 

“I have to move out of here and I need to move soon," she said.

Much worse, Dias said, the people who live in the apartments above the store will also have to move.

But Dias and Franklin weren't the only business owners dealing with damage. The Sky4 drone captured aerial video of a gas station awning twisted to one side and significant roof damage to several other buildings. The roofs on some of the buildings looked as if they had been ripped apart like pieces of paper. 

Business owners said they will be relying on help from both neighbors in town and others out of town. 

"We need a lot of volunteers," Dias said.

Despite the overwhelming damage, the community is staying strong. 

“We’re going to get through this," Franklin said. "Bainbridge is a tough little town."

Store fronts in Bainbridge, Georgia, showed significant damage in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

While touring some of the damaged areas in Bainbridge, the News4Jax crew met a family that rode out the storm.

Carol Keaton, a transplant from Orlando, and her family chose to stay in their home during the hurricane. She said they're lucky to have survived the storm. 

"It was like being in a popcorn machine. You hear a few pops, then all of a sudden, everything just goes," Keaton said. 

That popping was the sound of trees snapping in half and falling onto live power lines, including a large tree and power line in front of Keaton's home. There were also several trees in her backyard that were either blown down or split in half. Keaton said she's fortunate none of them fell on her home. 

"A big branch fell, but it fell right between (a Jaguar and a Chrysler)," she said. "Nothing hit the house. A couple pieces of tin flew off the roof, but nothing hit the house."

She’s also fortunate her daughter, Sahamara Hayes, didn’t get injured when she walked out the front door to get a better look at the trees that were falling around the house. 

“I was, like, 'Let me see what it looks like from around this corner,'" Hayes said. "I went around the corner, the wind just blew me back over here."

Due to the number of downed trees and power lines throughout neighborhoods in Bainbridge, it could be several days before power to the area is fully restored. 

Tree limbs were scattered around downtown Bainbridge, Georgia, Thursday after Hurricane Michael.

Glynn County avoids damage

Due to the speed of the storm and the westward track, Glynn County was able to avoid many of the potential disasters, officials announced Thursday morning.

Winds of 50 mph were measured in the area, and officials asked residents to report any downed power lines to Georgia Power at http://outagemap.georgiapower.com/external/default.html.

Fallen trees, dangerous potential falling trees or intersections without power can be reported to 912-554-3645.

Trash service is expected to continue on schedule, so residents should place cans on the street at usual.

For yard debris pickup, call the Glynn County Customer Service Department at 912-554-7111 or if you live in the city of Brunswick, call Republic Services at 912-267-6400. This weather event was not a federally declared disaster for Glynn County, so there will be no countywide debris pickup.

The F.J. Torras Causeway did not have significant flooding to cause lane closures. The Sidney Lanier Bridge will remain closed until the Georgia Department of Transportation has inspected and cleared it for use. Tide levels are expected to return to normal by the end of the day.

If you must drive, remember: Do not drive through water and treat intersections with power outages as four-way stops.

Glynn County government, the city of Brunswick and the Jekyll Island Authority were expected to resume normal operations as of noon Thursday. Glynn County Schools and the College of Coastal Georgia are expected to open Friday.

The Coast Guard reopened the port of Brunswick without restrictions about 2 p.m. Thursday.

Officials will continue to monitor conditions and provide updates as needed. Updates will be available at www.glynncounty.org/michael and on the Facebook page for the Glynn County Board of Commissioners.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.