Since Tropical Storm Zeta hit Forsyth County before dawn on Thursday, Oct. 29, thousands of residents have lost power, a local state of emergency has been declared and roads have been closed and buildings damaged due to the storm’s wind and rain.
Officials with Sawnee EMC said as of Friday afternoon, 550 locations affecting approximately 3,800 meters still had power outages, down from 75,000 who did not have power as of Thursday morning.
“While we cannot make a hard promise, we believe power should be restored to all meters by Saturday night,” officials said in a Facebook post. “Once all Sawnee members are restored and we are in the clear, our line crews and contractors will be released to aid our sister co-ops who need help, such as Cobb EMC, Amicalola EMC and Greystone Power.”
Forsyth County government officials declared a local state of emergency on Thursday, which allows the county to take specific, timely actions for storm cleanup and mitigation.
“The high winds and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Zeta during the early morning hours [Oct. 29] have downed trees, created power outages, and impacted property and roadways in our community,” said Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Laura Semanson in a news release.
“This declaration allows the county to activate our Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), providing for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Forsyth County.”
First responders were also heavily out in force to deal with the damage and power outages.
Forsyth County Fire Department Division Chief Jason Shivers said between 4:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., the department responded to 75 “true emergency” calls, at times having 100% of their force out responding to emergencies including workers who came in early or worked late on their shift.
In one notable accident on Majors Road, crews worked for more than three hours to free a resident after he was pinned by a tree that fell on his mobile home.
“To complicate the rescue, we couldn’t get any heavy equipment down to his home,” Shivers said. “It was down a long driveway, a very tough to access location, and we couldn’t get any kind of a crane-style unit or wrecker down to his house, so all the work had to be done by hand with the tools that we could walk into his home with.”
Shivers said there was an estimated 20,000 pounds of timber on the victim, who was in critical condition and suffered several upper-body injuries.
He said the call was responded two by two engine companies, the fire department’s heavy rescue and technical rescue teams, a ladder truck, two chief officers and an ambulance, a total of about 15 firefighters and two paramedics on the scene using chainsaws, hydraulic lifts, rescue saws and lift bags to free the man.
“The expertise goes hand in hand with the equipment, and these are those kinds of relatively rare events that don’t happen often,” Shivers said, “but you still have to train for them, because the high-risk, low-frequency events like this are when you can make the most difference often in saving someone’s life and, frankly, are very risky for our own personnel.”
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office added 40 additional deputies to local roads on Thursday as several major intersections remained without power.
"There are dozens of trees down across Forsyth with multiple roads blocked," the department said in a Facebook post on Thursday morning. "We are working to get a running list of those roads out to you as soon as we can. We currently have nine teams of chainsaw cutting deputies responding to the largest roadways and working their way down the list."
In a separate post, Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman thanked his deputies, linemen with Sawnee EMC, other responders and even members of the community for their work responding to emergencies.
“Just wanted to give a huge kudos to the Sawnee EMC and Georgia Power linemen who were working their tails off yesterday, and still today,” Freeman said. “FCSO and our FCSO volunteers, along with our partners at FCFD and Forsyth Roads and Bridges, responded to nearly 250 trees down. While our crews were sawing away and removing trees, those power company folks were side by side with us but one small difference, they were doing it with live power lines all around.”
Due to the impact of the storm, some park facilities are also closed for the time being.
City of Cumming officials said Mary Alice Park would remain closed until further notice due to downed trees and powerlines.
Similarly, Forsyth County’s Big Creek Greenway and Sawnee Mountain Preserve and Visitors Center are also being closed temporarily.