Monday morning dawned like any rainy day, but emergency managers knew much worse weather was coming that afternoon and evening as they gathered in a command center at Athens-Clarke County police headquarters at 8 a.m.
One of the first things they did was set up a non-emergency number people can call with questions about Hurricane Irma, now downgraded to tropical storm status, but was still packing plenty of destructive energy.
That number is (706) 613-3330, option 4, said Jeff Montgomery, a spokesperson for the Athens-Clarke County government.
For emergencies, including things like trees down in the roadway, people should continue to call 911.
As of about 10 a.m., winds were gusting up to about 33 miles per hour, but by about 1 p.m. a wind gauge at Athens-Ben Epps Airport had registered a gust up of 43 miles per hour.
The wind would get sharper as the day progressed, according to the National Weather Service’s noon webcast.
The forecast was similar to what they’d said 24 hours earlier — winds gusting up to about 53 miles per hour, with sustained winds in moving at about 30 miles per hour.
But the tornado risk was much lower than they’d feared earlier, forecasters said, and rainfall totals may be on the low end of the 3 to 5 inches predicted.
In the aftenoon, as the winds picked up, power utilities were beginning to see an uptick in power outages, said Montgomery.
Near downtown Athens, the Bigger Vision Homeless Shelter opened its doors and put out a call for volunteers to help, asking anyone who could come to the 95 North Avenue shelter to call the shelter’s executive director, Andrew Wilkins, at (404) 423-8065 for information.
New Covenant Worship Center at 1425 Newton Bridge Road announced it would open its doors to anyone needing shelter from 1-9 p.m. Monday. Overnight shelter would be available at a separate location, according to the church. Anyone needing overnight shelter should bring bedding and other overnight necessities. For more information, call Pastor David Hutchinson at (706) 296-8079.
The city of Winterville also designated its community center as a shelter for anyone in need of it during the storm.
At 1 p.m., as debris increasingly littered roads and branches snapped off trees, Athens-Clarke County suspended bus service for the remainder of the day. Buses earlier in the day had been operating, but on a reduced schedule.
Forecasters expected downed trees, power outages and possible localized flooding Monday afternoon and evening. The rain and wind was likely to gradually diminish after about midnight, said forecasters.
Meanwhile in south and middle Georgia, powerful Irma had left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, judging from totals posted on the Georgia Power Company outage map. Georgia Power is the state’s largest electricity provider.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for all of the states’ 159 counties in advance of Irma, which widened to the width of Georgia and Alabama combined as it made its way north and weakened into a tropical storm.
Even further south, Hurricane Irma left heavy destruction in its wake in several Caribbean islands, in the Florida Keys and through the Florida peninsula.