In Snellville, downed trees and bad luck for family of Irma evacuees


It seemed, in theory, like a simple — and safe — enough plan.

Sara Rodriguez, her parents and her sister would leave their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., and seek refuge from then-Hurricane Irma with friends up north in Georgia. And in Snellville, no less: a town a couple hundred miles from the coast. 

Surely they’d have nothing to worry about.

“We had no clue,” Rodriguez, 17, said Tuesday, a pink blanket wrapped around her shoulders.

Around 9 p.m. Monday, two huge trees fell next door to the Village Court home of Tamara Felizola, the old family friend who had opened her doors to the Rodriguez clan. 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 in the process.

MORE: Irma in Gwinnett, Day 2: Road closures, downed trees and power outages

MORE: Gwinnett County Public Schools closed Tuesday due to Irma

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MORE: Here are all the roads closed in Gwinnett due to Irma

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.”

Like much of the rest of metro Atlanta, Gwinnett County took a beating from Tropical Storm Irma on Monday, with hundreds of trees and wires reported down and tens of thousands of folks without power even on Tuesday. The Snellville area was among the county’s hardest hit.

Many of the fallen trees and road closures reported by Gwinnett fire and police on Monday and Tuesday were in the area, and the Snellville Police Department — which covers only the 10 or so square miles inside city limits — stayed busy too.

By Tuesday morning, Snellville officers had responded to 109 storm-related area checks; 25 “tree down” calls; 24 “street hazard”” calls; 14 calls of wires down; and four reports of trees hitting homes.

On Williams Place — about 2 ½ miles from the Village Court home where Felizola, her family and her storm-fleeing houseguests were staying — David Lake and his wife were among the fortunate ones. 

Their yard was littered with tree branches and the power was out, but the roof was spared. 

“They told us that they ran out of transformers to put up,” Lake, 25, said. “So if they don’t get one today it could be Thursday before we get the power back. But other than that we got pretty lucky, compared to some people.”

By about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Snellville’s public works crew had cleared trees from seven different roadways, officials said. 

Village Court was not yet one of them. Felizola and her friends were waiting on Walton EMC, too.

“They said they didn't have a pole” with them to replace the broken one, Felizola said. “Can you believe it?”


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