The worst of the storm is over for Georgia. But the damage left in Hurricane Michael’s path could linger for days.
After slamming the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Michael continued its powerful push into Georgia late Wednesday. As predicted, the storm was down to a Category 3 when it struck Georgia, and it continued to weaken to a Category 1 as it moved northeast across the state. But Michael was still the most powerful hurricane to hit the area in 120 years, forecasters said.
Metro Atlanta experienced heavy rain Wednesday night and the threat of tornadoes. But the timing of the storm — late night and overnight hours — meant much of the damage, if any, wouldn’t be visible until Thursday morning. As predicted, the storm weakened significantly as it moved northeast across the state.
With no inkling of just how bad Georgia would be hit, everyone from state officials to regular folks prepared for the worst. Even with the possibility of up to 6 inches of rain falling overnight in Macon-Bibb County, bottled water was scarce at the Wal-Mart Supercenter off Harrison Road. Janet Brooks was among the last-minute shoppers stocking up as the hurricane neared Middle Georgia.
“I guess it’s a lot, but it’s water, so it’s not like it’s going to go bad,” said Brooks as she waited to pay for about five 5 gallons.
She was lucky to get that much. Milk was running low, too, but the bread aisle was in better shape. Schools and government offices will be closed Thursday in Macon and for the rest of the week in other areas of the state.
Gov. Nathan Deal activated 1,500 Georgia National Guard troops and announced that 108 of the state’s 159 counties are covered by his state of emergency declaration. Deal also spoke with President Donald Trump, who offered federal disaster resources, according to a White House spokesman. Trump plans to visit the areas hit by Michael next week.
Other state agencies also made preparations, shelters opened for storm evacuees and animals, and agriculture leaders braced for the potential that the state’s peanut and pecan crops could be devastated, and other crops could also be endangered.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, assured state officials the federal government would help to restore the businesses after the hurricane passes. It was clear that farmers and other food producers could be hurting.
“The full support of the USDA, the team work and the partnership is unquestioned,” the state agriculture commissioner, Gary Black, said Wednesday night after speaking with Perdue and senior staff at the White House. “Right now, we’re not in a position to even know what we need.”
The work began Wednesday night for power crews, particularly in southwest Georgia, where at least 140,000 customers were without electricity around 9 p.m., according to utility companies.
In Albany, Chris Cohilas, chairman of the Dougherty County Commission, speculated that when daylight came, Albany would find “widespread, tremendous damage.” He just didn’t know how much.
Cohilas said agencies from all over Georgia, Dougherty and Albany were working to keep people safe.
They still feel the pain of a series of tornadoes that hit in January 2017, killing many residents in an area east of Albany populated by large clusters of trailers and modular homes. Cohilas said the difference between his region of Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, which bore the brunt of Michael, is that Florida expects something like this.
“We certainly didn’t think we’d be facing a hurricane 120 miles from the coast,” he said.
About two hundred people filled shelters, mostly churches, and crews handed out between 300 and 400 sandbags on Wednesday, Cohilas said.
Cohilas said the civic center in town would become a Red Cross shelter Thursday.
The chairman sent his four children to Clayton County ahead of the storm. He didn’t want to have to hold a mattress over his kids as tree branches pummeled them, or cower into pillows inside a Hampton Inn like they did in 2017 — when they lost their home and the house they’d bought across the street.
Derrick Davis spent his Wednesday organizing the shelter at New Birth Fellowship Christian in Albany, where he is the chairman of the deacon board. In 2017, he and his wife and two sons watched their home disappear.
“Now I take it more seriously,” he said.
His home was about 4 miles from the church where he helped get about 60 or so people situated Wednesday. Davis said his plan this time was to pray.
At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the storm forced Delta Air Lines to cancel about 80 flights to Tallahassee, Panama City and Destin-Fort Walton Beach, as well as to Albany, Valdosta and Dothan. The airline plans to resume flights to those airports this morning if facilities and infrastructure are adequate.
The rain is expected to taper off Thursday morning. Then, fall-like weather should finally arrive.
Thursday’s high temperature should reach the upper 70s, a big cool-down from the 80-degree days earlier in the week. Friday’s high will reach only the low 70s before dipping to the 50s at night.
— Staff writers Christian Boone, Ben Brasch, Greg Bluestein, David Wickert, Mitchell Northam, Joshua Sharpe, Johnny Edwards and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.