BUFORD — With the way that 2020 has gone so far, it’s not shocking to have a powerful tropical storm blow into Georgia from the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Zeta made landfall as a strong Category 2 storm in southern Louisiana on Wednesday, Oct. 28. Zeta then made her way across Mississippi and Alabama before causing widespread damage in north Georgia on Thursday as a tropical storm.
Tropical Storm Zeta is only the second tropical storm to come through the Atlanta area and have a tropical storm warning issued by the National Weather Service. The first tropical storm to do this was in 2017 when Hurricane Irma rolled through the area. Irma hit north Georgia during the daytime hours and did not leave as big of a punch as Zeta did.
School systems in the area closed their doors Thursday in anticipation of the storm. The schools had intended for students to operate on a Digital Learning Day, but with so many power outages in the area, school was called off all together Thursday. Gwinnett and Hall County Schools were also closed Friday as many of their students were still without power.
Zeta’s wrath was at its peak just before sunrise Thursday morning in the north Georgia area. The fast-moving storm left death and destruction in its wake. Wind gusts of near 50 mph combined with already saturated soil toppled trees all over the area, taking down power lines and blocking roads. A newlywed couple in their early 20s was killed in Buford after a tree fell on their home killing them instantly as they slept in their bed.
One million Georgians were without power after the storm hit. Power crews worked feverishly to get power restored to residents, but early Saturday morning, close to 3,500 Georgia Power customers in Gwinnett and south Hall were still without power and all customers were not fully restored until Sunday evening. Jackson EMC fared better with fewer than 200 customers still were without power come Saturday morning.
The City of Buford Power customers fared the best of all the local power companies. Crews were out as early as 4 a.m. working on making sure customers were taken care of. City Manager Bryan Kerlin said Zeta caused 245 electrical outages on the city’s grid with the primary affected areas being 140 outages Power Avenue, Williams Street, South Hill Street and New Street; 40 outages on North Gwinnett Street, City Walk and Latimore Street; 30 outages on Lee Drive; 15 outages on Watson Street; and 20 isolated outages. The electrical department handled numerous calls about tree limbs on power lines and crews are still working on cleaning up the storm’s aftermath.
Trees came down all over the area and Buford’s Street Department “responded to over 27 addresses and locations in Buford with debris, tree and limbs blocking the streets, impeding traffic or other issues related to the storm,” Kerlin said.
Buford employees will continue the clean up work over the course of normal business operations. They have been working hard to keep up with the sheer volume of tree limbs, leaves, brush and other debris that residents have placed at the street for the city to pick up.
— Alicia Couch Payne