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Emergency personnel brave storm to clear roads
A-Storm cleanup pic1
A home on Hugh Stowers Road near Hwy. 53 was hit by two falling trees during a storm on March 21. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

A joint effort between emergency personnel, sheriff's office deputies, county road crews and civilians kept Dawson County roads safe last week after a severe storm blew through the county, knocking down trees and leaving thousands without power.

During the height of the storm the night of March 21, emergency personnel estimated that about 50 city, county and state roadways were blocked.

Emergency Services Chief Lanier Swafford said during Thursday's county commission meeting that of the roads that could be cleared, and that personnel were aware of that were blocked, the majority of those were cleared in a four-hour period.

"[It's not] just an inconvenience to [people] coming and going, but if they have an emergency and we can't get to them we can't help them so it's always a priority for us," he said.

Public Works Director David McKee said he was proud of the teamwork shown by the roads crew and emergency services to clear the roads.

"We immediately started deploying equipment and people in a whole bunch of different directions. I really wish you could record what you hear on the radio and the phones, because there is a million people doing two million different things," McKee said. "We had 14 guys working until 4 a.m."

McKee said that if a tree was down with power lines on it, the county staff could not touch it.

"That is a matter of policy, safety, from a risk standpoint," McKee said.

Swafford praised the utility companies, who he said put in a lot of hours to get power restored to citizens. He also said the roads couldn't have been cleared without a group effort.

"I can't say enough about public works, the sheriff's office and the 911 center," Swafford said. "I give credit to our staff and the work that they did."

Of the 500 calls that the 911 communications center got during the height of the storm, a period of two hours, only eight were not related to falling trees, Swafford said.

One tree in a Dawsonville man's backyard fell during the storm, grazing the side of his house and poking a few holes in the siding.

"I heard it at about 10 last night," said Nello Ragghianti, who lives off Grizzle Road. "I was watching TV and it knocked vases off the windowsill in the bathroom. It made a lot of noise, but it was so dark I didn't know what had happened."

Ragghianti said he felt lucky the tree fell sideways instead of directly on his home.

Others weren't so lucky. Many homeowners are facing extensive repairs after trees fell onto their homes.

"We did have a dozen structures that we're aware of that were damaged to some degree, three we considered serious damage," Swafford said. "We went back and followed up with the homeowners and all of them were insured and had insurance companies involved in their restoration."

A home in Big Canoe was struck by lightning during the storm, but Swafford said there was no significant damage to the home.

Swafford said he was thankful that everyone survived the storm with no reported injuries.

"The best news is that to our knowledge, there were no injuries to staff or civilians," Swafford said.