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DeKalb responds to first-ever tropical storm warning as result of largest recorded hurricane in history

Compiled by Carla Parker, Horace Holloman and R. Scott Belzer

As Hurricane Irma decimated many parts of Florida with wind speeds reaching up to 80 miles per hour, the Peach State hunkered down for its first-ever tropical storm warning. On Sept. 9, Gov. Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for all 159 Georgia counties.

DeKalb County officials said they were “all hands-on deck” for the storm as first responders worked to respond to fallen trees and downed power lines.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said the county will serve as a safe-haven for Florida residents affected by Hurricane Irma.

“We would like to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to those that have been effected by this historic hurricane,” Thurmond said. “Here in DeKalb County, we want to extend our friendship and support for those coming to Georgia and ensure that anyone in this county will be safe and secure as we wait out this storm.”

DeKalb County officials said one of the biggest concerns would be dealing with power outages and fallen trees and tree limbs.

As of Sept. 11, according to Georgia utility provider Georgia Power, more than 200,000 customers were without power.

Thurmond said the county’s first responders were scheduled to work “around the clock” until the conditions of the storm passed.

“These men and women have dedicated their lives and careers to protecting and serving this community and I thank them and wish them safety,” Thurmond said.

Susan Loeffler, director of the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency (DCEMA), said her department prepared for power outages and trees down and urged residents to stay safe during the storm. She also said residents should be prepared to be without power for four to five days.

“This is not a big rain maker storm like you saw in Houston. We’re not going to be getting 50 inches of rain. We know we’re going to get some spot flooding and we’re preparing for trees down and trees down on houses,” Loeffler said. “I know it’s exciting and this is something that doesn’t happen very often, but please don’t run to your glass windows. Get inside and stay safe.”


The DCEMA contacted county first responders a week prior to Hurricane Irma hitting the Florida Keys, said Loeffler.

The county created the website for residents to visit and receive updates on the storm.

“It’s all about being prepared. We’ve been working with everybody from roads and drainage to our school system, our hospitals and infrastructure officials. We wanted to do everything we could to be prepared,” Loeffler said. “It’s been a lot of preparing because you never know what’s going to come at you.”

DeKalb County Government offices closed Sept. 11 and Sept. 12. Several remembrance ceremonies scheduled throughout the county for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorists attack were also cancelled.

Peggy Allen, director of DeKalb County roads and drainage department, said the department began 24-hour operation on Sept. 10.

“We will operate 24 hours until the storm has passed us,” Allen said. “We will clear debris to prevent additional flooding. We worked with our maintenance technicians to make sure all our chainsaws were ready; all of our chains were ready [to] remove any debris in the way.”

Local transportation shuts down in response to Irma

The anticipation of Hurricane Irma caused many local agencies to take precautions, including MARTA.

MARTA suspended bus and rail service for Sept. 11 ahead of the anticipated severe weather conditions expected in metro Atlanta as Irma approached.

“The projected impact of this approaching storm requires us to suspend all MARTA service for [Sept. 11],” MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker said. “Safety remains our top priority for both our customers and employees.”

At the Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, no flights were scheduled to fly in or out of the airport on Sept. 11. Airport director Mario Evans said the airport took precautionary measures to protect the planes on the property.

“The precautionary measures that we have taken is to make sure that all aircrafts that are here on the airfield are tied down, anchored, doors locked—anything that’s out on the ramp that could possibly be moved with a gust of wind,” Evans said. “We have informed all of our tenants and customers, as of last week, to make sure they are locked down.”

Evans said there are 409 aircraft based at the airport and there were some planes that flew in from Florida before Hurricane Irma made landfall.

“I [had] one runway closed for that purpose as we have seen this happen in the past,” Evans said. “Currently, we have about 12 that are sitting on the runway right now that are big enough to not be moved by the gusts of wind we are looking at that will hit the metro Atlanta area.”

Irma delays DeKalb education

Education facilities throughout DeKalb County joined many others across the state in closing their doors Sept. 11 and Sept. 12.

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) officials met early Sept. 8 and held a joint press conference with DeKalb’s Emergency Management Agency to prepare residents. At the time, deputy superintendent Vansanne Tinsley said district officials would meet over the weekend to discuss whether to open schools in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

On Sept. 10, DCSD officials announced school closures Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 “out of an abundance of caution and safety of its students and employees,” according to a release. As a result, DCSD’s monthly board of education meeting—scheduled for Sept. 11—will be rescheduled.

“We’re on high alert, like the state and eastern seaboard of the nation, as we anticipate the arrival of Hurricane Irma,” said DCSD superintendent R. Stephen Green. “We’re working both laterally with intergovernmental agencies and also with my colleagues—the other superintendents across the area—to make sure we are all prepared. We’re monitoring the situation closely and we’re ready to make a rapid response if the situation develops as anticipated over the next three or four days. We don’t want to take any chances or take anything for granted. We want to be in a preventative mode, rather than react after the fact.”

According to a release from the district, Green’s administrative team and the DCSD board of education monitored reports from the National Weather Service and coordinated with regional agencies to arrive at the decision.

“The health and safety of our DCSD family are of the utmost importance,” Green said. “With the information currently available, it would not be prudent to open schools knowing the potential impact Hurricane Irma will bring to the area. We will continue to monitor the situation and react accordingly on behalf of our students and employees.”

Similarly, City Schools of Decatur (CSD) announced on Sept. 10 its decision to close its facilities Sept. 11-12 “due to the tropical storm warning issued for the area and the forecast for dangerous winds and heavy rain,” according to a release. As a result, CSD’s board of education meeting, scheduled for Sept. 12, was rescheduled.

“Please take precautions to stay safe during this severe weather event,” the release states.

Georgia State University closed all its campuses Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 in the wake of Irma’s intense winds and heavy rains. Food staff at Georgia State were provided housing accommodations to make sure students who live on campus were provided sustenance.

“We can’t leave students in residence halls with no food,” the university said via Twitter on Sept. 10.

Emory University closed its doors Sept. 11 but required healthcare and emergency employees to show up for work in case they are needed.

“Based on the current track of the storm; heavy rain, destructive winds, flash flooding, and tornados appear likely,” the university announced on its website. “Emory’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) is working with teams across the University to ensure the sustainability and safety of the community. There is no need to evacuate Emory campuses; the community will follow the procedures to shelter in place should we need to do so.”

Georgia Piedmont Technical College announced its intention to close Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 on Sept. 10 at approximately 3 p.m. due to weather.

Drew Charter School, which typically follows Atlanta Public Schools’ decisions regarding inclement weather, closed school Sept. 11 but as of press time had not made a decision regarding Sept. 12.

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