ELLIJAY, Ga – Not even two months have passed since Gilmer suffered through one of the worst storms it has seen in decades near the end of July, yet Hurricane Florence threatens to be just as bad, if not worse, according to reports from the National Weather Service and State Governments along the East Coast.
Both South and North Carolina have seen mandatory evacuation orders for residents in certain areas. With the residents continuing to travel west away from the storm, Georgia’s State Government has spoken about accepting those fleeing the path of the hurricane. The National Guard and the Coast Guard have already been mobilized for support as well as forces from Maryland and even New York preparing to help.
With a recent change in direction, the National Weather Service now indicates that North Georgia could see much more impact now. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett said we are on the “dirtier” side of the storm today in a scheduled Commissioner’s meeting where he warned of potential dangers and damage that Gilmer could see from the southern turn of Hurricane Florence.
The expected impact is so large that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the state.
Based on the latest 11 a.m. forecast for Hurricane Florence and acting on a recommendation from Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security officials, today I issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in Georgia.
The Gilmer Public Safety Department took to social media today as well to warn citizens of “an enhanced chance of impacts for our area. Potential impacts could include heavy rain and sustained winds. This could very well cause serious flooding impacts and a large amount of downed trees. Roadways washed out and damaged and widespread power outages are all a result of these impacts.”
Officials are asking citizens to prepare for the oncoming storm and for an influx of people attempting to flee the storm, even as we are still recovering from the July storm. Public Works Director Jim Smith told the Commissioners today that his people were also prepared to mobilize in recovery and recuperation efforts.
Public Safety also noted, “Everyone should keep in mind that systems such as this in the past have caused SEVERE damage for our county. Although we hope this is not the case. PLEASE PREPARE NOW! Preparedness includes adequate food and water for a minimum of 72 hours, flashlights and batteries, a full charge on all wireless devices and portable charging options for these devices, generators and fuel if you have them and know the PROPER use and placement.”
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated that the county is preparing its resources including Pritchett preparing the Emergency Management Program as the county readies itself to open shelters if needed. He also confirmed that while Gilmer is not currently in talks with the State about housing evacuees, it is prepared for the call with those shelters made ready.
Emergency preparedness goes far deeper than just resources and shelters, however. Threats like this are prepared for months and years in advance. Pritchett made special note of the departments swift water training and equipment in a case of an extreme event saying, “We have very advanced, skilled swift-water-trained individuals that are trained to get to most anybody that is trapped or is in a rescue situation.”
Preparing for the worst-case scenario, Pritchett said the Department already has response plans throughout the county, but cautioned citizens against “sounding the alarm” for something that may not be as bad as they are preparing for. Despite the declaration of a State of Emergency, he noted that at this time, preparedness is the best course of action as they have previously stated.
These are the reasons that he encourages citizens to have cell phones charged and to prepare other means of charging in case of a need. Having these devices available to contact emergency response is also a part of survival.
As you continue watching for news and updates regarding Hurricane Florence, it may be wise to go ahead and program the non-emergency response numbers into your phone in case a need arises. If you have questions, concerns, or a need contact Headquarters at 706-635-1333 or the non-emergency dispatch number 706-635-8911. Pritchett also encouraged citizens to keep an eye on the Gilmer County Public Safety Facebook Page for updates on the storm, shelters, and impact on Gilmer County.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer continues to clean up and recover from Saturday mornings storm, officials are beginning to assess damage and costs for the county.
According to Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, around 4 a.m. on Saturday morning emergency services began receiving calls for aid around the county.
As one of the hardest hit counties in North Georgia, the damage with downed trees and powerlines alone could have weeklong effects according to reports as power outages continue and line-men continue working around the clock to repair both downed line and downed poles. There have also been reports of mudslides causing damage to areas, but no roads have been blocked or destroyed.
Pritchett reports that the emergency services only had one reported injury as a tree fell on a local woman’s camper in the Coosawattee area. As paramedics reached the woman, she was taken to an area hospital. However, no reports of any fatalities have come in as authorities are still, days later, responding to calls for aid.
As the intensity of the storm increase through the early hours, an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 homes lost power in the county between Amicalola Electric Company and Georgia Power. Public Safety has counted 20 homes with trees on top of them as they continue the survey process. These were just a few of the different situations that Pritchett says they have continued responding to in the days since the storm.
County services are in full swing with the Gilmer County Road Department and Public Safety department both attempting to clear trees from the roads as they find them.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN that the county is still collecting estimates for exact amounts of costs of the damage. However, their biggest disaster came in the Buckhorn area and the county golf course which lost part of its most recent paving of the cart path, has numerous trees down on the greens, and is still looking at water damage to the course. Early predictions say the course will not re-open to the public until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.
Despite the highest damage to county facilities and equipment being there, the hardest hit part of Gilmer County is actually inside Coosawattee, according to Pritchett. While the county continues the clean up in the outer areas of the county and the cities deal with the damage inside their limits, Coosawattee’s Public Works department is dealing with the mass of downed trees and road damage inside the resorts gated community.
Gilmer has also experienced flooding in low-level areas. However, River Park, which has become notorious for flooding and flood damage in recent years, made it through the storm, according to Paris, with minimal damage and little to no flooding through the buildings.
The major damage from the rainfall came with 5 damaged culvert pipes. Director of Public Works, Jim Smith told FYN that four of those pipes had part of their base wash away as water overtook the pipe and began flowing over the road. The fifth pipe, however, was located on Tyler Road, just off of Highway 282, and was completely washed out and carried away. This pipe had to be replaced and reset. However, the Road Department has all five locations repaired and passable for vehicles at this time.
Alongside the continuing official response of the county, citizens are also still out in droves continuing to help neighbors chainsaw trees in driveways and across roads that authorities haven’t reached yet. Citizens across the county are calling it a major storm, the likes of which they have not seen before.
Citizens are also reporting damage tolls in the hundreds of thousands between damage to homes and vehicles being damaged or crushed by falling branches, trees, hail, power poles, and other debris. Reports of damage continue through local farms including at least one chicken house struck by lightning and burnt down.
Continuing reports of high wind, continuous lightning, and heavy rain have locals calling it a “tornado-like storm without the tornado.”
Officials agree as the Public Safety Department is currently sharing all their information collected with the National Weather Service in attempts to classify the storm. Pritchett confirmed that they are collecting damage reports and assessing weather data to assess the possibility of microbursts, straight-line winds, or actual tornadic activity.
Gilmer is not alone in its time of recovery, though. As is common practice with power companies, Gilmer is receiving aid from counties all over Georgia. Crews are in town this week from Volt Power, Amicalola Electic, Pike Electric, Sumter Electric, and Georgia Power among others. Two visiting workers confirmed they were from Columbus, Ga. and Atlanta, Ga. With others coming in from across the state, work is continuing for those parts of Gilmer and North Georgia that are still without power.
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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued warning for most of Georgia involving the coming severe storms.
Gilmer is included as the eastern half is set for severe storms, wind, and possibly hail. However, the western half of Gilmer is included in the NWS “Enhanced Risk” warnings, meaning citizens should be prepared for massive rainfall, large hail, potential tornadoes, and damaging wind reaching up to 60 mph.
While citizens are preparing for all the potential dangers, most are afraid of the possibility of flooding in their area. One citizen reported pea sized hail already falling outside at the East Ellijay Walmart.
The Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke with FYN about the coming storms saying, “Hopefully, it will move through the county without incident. Nevertheless, our people are geared up and ready to go.”
Being aware of the warnings, Pritchett says the Public Safety Department is ready, but waiting to gauge the intensity of the storms. He suggested extra preparations for all citizens living near creeks and other waterways saying that in Gilmer county, “Small creeks and other waterways could rise quickly. We just ask everyone to be prepared.”
As Public Safety continues preparations and monitoring of the potential risks, the National Weather Service is continuing updates to the storm, “At 1243 PM EDT…a strong thunderstorm was near Roy, or 11 miles east of Ellijay…moving east at 40 mph.”
Some locationsthe NWS indicated in the path of this storm include “Dahlonega, Suches, Amicalola Falls State Park, Camp Merrill, Springer
Mountain Shelter, Len Foote Hike Inn, Black Gap Shelter, Stover Creek Shelter, Hawk Mountain Shelter, Nimblewill, Roy, Gaddistown, Gooch, and Mountain Shelter.”
Gilmer Schools have even cancelled all afternoon activities for today, March 19, due to the storms, although they are planning to move ahead with their scheduled Board Meeting at 6 pm.
Stay with FetchYourNews as update continue on the storm’s severity and potential damage in the county. Again, if you begin to see water rising near your homes, seek shelter elsewhere to avoid being trapped. This became a real issue to citizens with flooding over recent years.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A box truck heading north on Highway 515 stopped traffic when it wrecked late Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 27.
Authorities on scene worked quickly to clear the right lane of northbound traffic as nobody was seriously injured in the accident. The truck went off the road and came to rest on the guard rail near Highway 515 Auto Auction.
According to Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, two people were in the truck at the time of the crash. At this time, Highway 515 is open to traffic again while workers are clearing the road.
(Photo by Kelsey Richardson of the Andrews Journal)
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a news story in the Andrews Journal today, one sentence has caused confusion among Gilmer County’s citizens and officials.
FetchYourNews (FYN) has confirmed with Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett that he is indeed taking a job in Andrews, North Carolina, as police chief for the department.
The Andrews Journal states, “Pritchett, who has family throughout Cherokee County, is from Gilmer County, Ga. He is transitioning from his role as the Gilmer County Public Safety director to Andrews police chief. Pritchett additionally has experience as chief of the Gilmer County Volunteer Fire Department.”
FYN reported the article to Gilmer County. Additionally, Pritchett has confirmed with FYN that he is transitioning away from the East Ellijay Police Department where Pritchett says he has worked shifts for eight years. Moving his police work to Andrews, Pritchett says he has taken the position for flexibility in his schedule. While he usually had night shifts in East Ellijay, Andrews will allow a less rigid schedule meaning less affect on his main position of public safety director in Gilmer, which he is not leaving.
Coming out of executive session, Pritchett was voted to be hired by the town’s Board of Aldermen. FYN has also checked with Gilmer County Chairman Charlie Paris who stated he confirmed with the town’s mayor that the new position will allow Pritchett to expand and support their police force as chief.
The Andrews Journal did report that Pritchett spoke about bringing a “good respectable and professional police force” to the city and later noted that when the new police force is hired, Pritchett would be focusing on the town’s drug crisis.
When FYN caught up with Pritchett about possibly transitioning away from Gilmer, he responded, “I love the county too much, and I ain’t going nowhere.”
The Andrews Police Department has diminished in the last year after the casino opened. Pritchett told FYN he would be adding his training and expertise to rebuild the department. While the new position will help to grow their department, Pritchett declined to say if there was a set period that he would be there saying, “As long as it is something that doesn’t take away from my responsibilities as public safety director, I don’t mind staying, helping out, and being a part of the department for a while. As long as it doesn’t place too much weight on me from here because Gilmer County, the citizens of Gilmer County, being public safety director and fire chief is my primary duty.”
Summarizing the entirety of the new position, Pritchett summed up his move as “swapping his extra job.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Holding their groundbreaking ceremony over the weekend, Gilmer County has already spent months clearing land and preparing the lot on Pink Pig Lane for a new fire station.
With a contractor moving forward, officials gathered together to formally break ground on the building’s construction. Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston visited with Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller, and Gilmer Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett as they joined with local citizens to celebrate the project.
With the original fire station in the area closed several years ago, citizens have continually expressed the importance of replacing it. A fire station in the area was promised but proved to be slow going. According to local resident Ernest Watkins, many of those in the area lost faith and didn’t believe the station would ever be built. Watkins told FetchYourNews (FYN) the station means everything to him as he had two sons who became volunteer firefighters and having the new location represents the culmination of his community coming together and being heard in what they are wanting.
Opening the ceremony, Pritchett spoke on the importance of the project saying, “Community fire and emergency response capabilities for our citizens are the most vital and important services a local government can provide.” He went on to thank the current Board of Commissioners for making the project a priority and following through with the community through consistent hurdles and obstacles they encountered.
Chairman Paris echoed the sentiments on the community thanking the Sisson Family who donated the land for the fire station as well as the people of Cherry Log saying, “You’ve been promised for years and years now that there is going to be a fire station here. It has been my objective to make that happen … This groundbreaking today is actually a confirmation of our promise to you that this is going to get built. We are going forward on it.”
Paris thanked citizens for their patience in the project as he and the current board have worked through the trials and tougher points of completing it.
The contract sets the station to be completed within six months from now. This sets the station to be open before next winter and available for any needs such as warming centers or shelters like any other station. Paris confirmed the new building will be a volunteer station and that the county already has volunteer firefighters planned at the location. The new location, dubbed Fire Station No. 3, will be an unmanned station that utilizes the volunteers to man the position.
With the ceremony completed and construction underway, Paris said the next step will be preparing equipment and readying the transfer of that equipment to the facility.
Ralston praised the community’s efforts throughout the project saying he wanted to show his support for them. The “community spirit and pride” were what Ralston said laid the foundation. The fire station represents a “capstone” on their efforts locally. He went on to say he was very proud of the community and all they had accomplished.
His sentiment was later echoed by Paris who told FYN in a one-on-one interview that it was the community who stayed with the project. Considering some citizens becoming demoralized after the years they had waited for the project, Paris said, “The fact that we have done this, this is hard to ignore … They just wanted it to happen, and now that it is, I think the folks here are pretty happy with it.”
Paris also praised his Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Travis Crouch for their support in the project saying, “There has never been a question about whether Cherry Log needed to have a fire station.”
Moving forward, citizens will continue to watch the project progress through construction and paving, marching ever closer to finally completing a promise years in the making.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A Gilmer County Charter School System bus has crashed roughly three miles out of town on Yukon Road.
The road is currently shut down and drivers need to find alternative routes as they attempt to travel. The bus was not involved with another vehicle. According to Gilmer County Charter School System Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes, the bus overturned on the wet, rainy road resulting in minor injuries to children on board.
She did confirm the only students on board were from Clear Creek Middle School. With only minor, non-life-threatening, injuries, emergency services are transporting seven students to the emergency department in Ellijay and eight are being transported to the emergency room in Jasper. However, the other students on board were uninjured or only received scrapes or bruises and, having been checked by emergency response units, are being transported back to Clear Creek Middle School for parent pick-up.
According to the Gilmer County Charter School System, they are working to notify parents and are not releasing names of the students injured.
Witnesses on scene are reporting officers from Gilmer Fire, Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, and the Georgia State Patrol are still working on the vehicle which is blocking both lanes of the road.
While emergency services are on scene, there is no set time expected for re-opening the road. Stay with FetchYourNews (FYN) as we continue to follow updates from authorities.
UPDATE: According to Dr. Shanna Wilkes, the accident coupled with response from parents to the schools delayed bus routes today, causing many students to arrive home far later than usual. With State Patrol undertaking a formal investigation into the incident, the use of this bus would demand a halt whether it is operational or not as authorities’ investigation will entail a full inspection in addition to questioning and investigating those involved.
While it is FYN’s understanding that the bus overturned after an over-correction by the driver, possibly trying to return to the road from the shoulder, it has not been confirmed by officials.