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County takes stock after tropical storm knocks out power
Residents rebuild after damage to homes, businesses
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One of several trees that toppled in the backyard of Lumpkin Campground resident Joy Mixer’s home crashed into the back of her house during Tropical Storm Irma Sept. 11. - photo by For the Dawson County News

“God had wrapped his arms around me, that’s for sure,” says 78-year-old Joy Mixer as she recounts the moment when a tree fell through the roof of the bedroom where, until a few moments previously, she had been asleep.

“Three trees came down in a domino effect, or so I’m told,” Mixer recalls. “One on top of the other.”

Mixer said that she had gone to bed about 9:45 p.m. on Sept. 11, and had slept for a while before waking to the sound of wind from then-tropical storm Irma whipping through the trees around her house inside Lumpkin Campground.

“In a split second, something came through the ceiling,” Mixer said. “I didn’t know what had happened. Two or three trusses fell down on my body and I was pinned in the bed. I couldn’t move anything but my hand, and I was able to reach around the pillow to get my cell phone and call 911.”

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A ceiling fan dangles over the bed where Dawson County resident Joy Mixer lay sleeping moments before a tree fell into her house, knocking the ceiling down around her. - photo by For the Dawson County News
Mixer is the caretaker of Lumpkin Campground, the 40 acre plot of land that holds a few dozen wooden tents that, but for a week each summer, stand empty the duration of the year. She said the gate to the road around the campground was locked when emergency crews arrived at the entrance off Lumpkin Campground Road.

After sawing through the gate and breaking down her front door, personnel lifted the beams off of Mixer. But for a few superficial scratches and the surprise of her life, Mixer was otherwise unharmed.

“I thank God I’m still alive,” Mixer said. “It could have been much worse. Most of my children and grandchildren live in Florida, so I was just worried about them...I didn’t dream it would affect us.”

The storm did affect the region, and in a big way.

At last week’s board of commissioners work session, county officials took stock of the damage and power outages created by the storm, as well as discussed what the county was doing to set it right and what they could learn from the experience. 

Emergency Services Director Lanier Swafford spoke to the extent of power outages and damage to homes and commercial buildings.

He said that power outages during the height of the storm had over 8,000 people in Dawson County without power.

Tuesday morning, there were over 6,000 people without power in Dawson County: Georgia Power had 2,579 customers without power, Sawnee EMC had 1,433 without and Amicalola EMC had 2,511 without, according their outage maps.

By Thursday evening, the numbers had been reduced to 1,599 outages for Georgia Power, none for Sawnee and 826 for Amicalola, Swafford said.

As of press time, Georgia Power was reporting minimal outages in the northern part of the county near Sassafras Mountain.

Swafford also reported that roof damage to fire station No. 1 that was sustained during the storm had been repaired and that no other county building had been damaged. As of Thursday evening, 56 residences were reported damaged, with seven minor damages, five major and one home destroyed. Three commercial buildings were affected, Cold Creek Farm and Ferrell Gas, which sustained minor damage, and a chicken house with major damage, as winds had blown a large portion of the roof off.

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A tree slammed into the back of a home in Dawson County during a storm last week, causing ceiling beams to come down on a woman who lay in bed. - photo by For the Dawson County News
Swafford reported that he had 25 personnel on duty the night of the storm, and that at noon Tuesday the emergency services department resumed normal operations.

Downed trees played a large part in the severity of the storm, with many downed trees making roads impassable.

County manager David Headley commended the work of the county’s GIS Analyst Jameson Kinley, who created a map of the downed trees in Dawson County for the use of emergency services as well as for residents and county crews. Headley said the map will be useful when the county reports damage to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, or GEMA, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Public Works Director David McKee agreed.

“It’s really state of the art technology that we’re using,” McKee said. “We have it at our fingertips, we have the staff, we have the personnel, Jameson was pulling it together but it really takes all of us to make it happen. Our goal was just what [Headley] said, whether it's for GEMA, FEMA or for our own lessons learned.”

McKee said that Jenkins and Vandiviere roads were worst hit, but that by Thursday night all roads in the county were open. He said that Thursday morning, county crews began the cleanup process of hauling debris and taking it to be weighed until it could be properly disposed of.

Dawson County Schools were closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and operated on a two-hour delay Thursday and Friday. Veterans Memorial Park, the senior center and the fleet maintenance shop were without power through the week and closed, but have resumed normal operations.

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