Athens finds a bit of normalcy after Irma

It was hard to tell in most places in Athens on Wednesday that a potentially deadly storm had passed through less than two days before, though in many places you could hear the buzz of chainsaws.

 

Flocks of University of Georgia students crossed Lumpkin Street at Baxter, checking their Twitter accounts, while students kicked around soccer balls on a sunny field in UGA’s intramural sports area off College Station Road.

Streets that had been heavily littered with storm debris Tuesday were mostly clean, and electricity had been restored at many of the thousands of homes that lost power Monday.

Impatient drivers waited their turn to move through the intersection of Hancock Street and Milledge Avenue while workers replaced traffic signals that had smashed down during Monday’s storm. More than a dozen other streets remained closed or partially closed Wednesday afternoon.

Clarke public schools were closed for a third consecutive day, but school officials announced Wednesday afternoon that school would resume Thursday. Oglethorpe County schools and Jefferson City schools, which also had to shut down for a third day because of a power outage, also will resume Thursday.

Out at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, visitors strolled among the flowers as usual and parking areas bore no evidence of the storm’s aftermath, though the sound of leaf blowers disturbed the usual peaceful quiet, and here and there a large tree lay prone, including one that blocked a walkway in the shade garden not far from the parking lots.

Several staff members came in early to help grounds crews with cleanup, said Botanical Garden Director Jenny Cruse-Sanders.

“Poeople really pitched in,” she said.

Over in Athens’ Memorial Park, turtles sunned themselves in the park’s little lake while couples strolled by. In the park’s Bear Hollow Zoo, the alligator and the three bears also sunned themselves for the benefit of visiting families, while the park’s one-winged eagle watched from its perch, like any other day.

The story at Bear Hollow was much like the story of the rest of the city. None of the zoo’s 58 animals were injured, and none had escaped even though a few trees had come down, knocking down some of fences that keep animals in, and more importantly, keep people out, said Bear Hollow park coordinator Clint Murphy.

The park has special provisions for its animals considered possibly injurious to people should they manage to escape — the bears, the alligator, the otter and the bobcat.

Each has a hardened concrete “night house,” and that’s where Bear Hollow staffers put them as the storm neared.

Athens-Clarke maintenance crews began patching the damaged places in fences early Tuesday morning, and by Thursday, all the animals except the otter would be out roaming their enclosures again, Murphy said.

The park had also prepared beforehand by laying in food supplies and generators, Murphy said.

Bear Hollow had been open its normal hours the Saturday and Sunday before the storm hit. Many of its visitors on had been Florida families looking to ease some of the stress they were feeling, Murphy said. Others were from Savannah, partially evacuated as Tropical Storm Irma approached.

Electricity was still out at the park, as in much of Five Points. As of Friday afternoon, about 2,000 Athens households and businesses were still without power, according to online utility outage maps.

Insurance agencies were busy, bringing in outside help to assess the damage for policy holders.

“We’ve got them coming in from all over the country,” said Tom Chasteen of Chasteen Insurance Agency. “It’s a tough time; really a tough, tough, time.”

Damages to people’s homes and businesses was catastrophic in places like Glynn County. Authorities Wednesday weren’t allowing most people into the county, which includes Sea Islands, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.

Here in Clarke County the damage was comparatively light.

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

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