The process of picking up the pieces after Hurricane Michael has just begun for much of the South.
With wind speeds as high as 80 mph, Michael tore through Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas late last week, leaving more than a dozen people dead and thousands homeless and out of power. But after all of the destruction, recovery efforts have begun to bring people back home, President Donald Trump has visited various locations throughout the South and FEMA has deployed thousands of their staff with food, water and other supplies.
In the midst of the recovery, teams of Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been deployed to affected areas to aid other law enforcement offices, restore order and help local residents get back to their lives.
According to Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, for the last week 15 deputies of their disaster response team have been living and working in the Crisp and Dougherty county areas of south Georgia, two areas that were pummeled with severe and dangerous winds during the storms.
“These guys are specially trained,” Freeman said. “They are trained and capable of doing anything from running a jail to standardized patrol duty, they are equipped with chainsaws, they are able to do search-and-rescue, and they have extended medical training.”
Freeman said that the team is well-equipped with generators, extensive radio communications equipment, tents, cots, food and water so they can act as a self-sustained unit and operate on their own for up to 10 days if it’s needed.
“We don’t want to be a hindrance, we want to be a help, so we wanted to make sure that we are totally self-contained,” he said. “It’s been a unique experience for them. They’ve helped catch a murder suspect. They’ve worked with the gang unit in Albany. They perform patrol duties. They’ve cut up hundreds of trees ... And right now, they are helping the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office check on the very rural areas.”
One of the deputies from Forsyth County, Cpl. Pete Sabella, said that the team has been working 18-hour days, helping to relieve local law enforcement officers that until they arrived were working 36-hour shifts.
Sabella said that after the storm hit, 80 percent of the Crisp and Dougherty county areas were without power due to fallen trees that destroyed powerlines. One of their main priorities became dealing with the trees and coordinating with the power companies.
“We are going road to road, opening up the roadways the best we can,” Sabella said.
At night, Sabella said they transition to patrol duty, rolling through subdivisions and neighborhoods with their dim blue cruise lights on so residents know they are there to help.
And according to both Freeman and Sabella, the response from local residents has been overwhelmingly warm. Freeman said that he has received a number of different messages from south Georgia residents who were helped by his deputies, and Sabella said that locals regularly bringing them food and drinks to show their appreciation.
“They are very thankful and hands-on helpful as well. We have had several farmers come out with their tractors to help us clear trees out of the roadway,” he said. “Last night, three of the families that we helped clear roads in their area invited us over for a grill-out, and that was absolutely wonderful.”
Sabella said this is the first time that the team has been deployed since its creation when Freeman came into office last year, and so far it has been a resounding success.
“We’ve been on standby for several storms that approached the state of Georgia, but never had to deploy out until this storm, and it’s gone great,” he said.
Freeman said this team of 15 was scheduled to return on Monday, but due to the extent of the damage in south Georgia, a second team of 15 will be deployed later this week.
“It’s been a privilege to go help those folks, because as I have said before, one day we are going to need help,” Freeman said. “But I know, without any doubt whatsoever, that if I asked for help those fellow sheriffs would send people to us.”