24 Inches Of Snow Blankets County
Monday marks the 25th anniversary of the Great Blizzard of 1993 that not only brought Chattooga County to a halt, but also much of the east coast.
The storm knocked out electrical services, disrupted schools and is blamed for killing three local people.
“That is probably one of the most significant events in our county’s history,” Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters said. “And, nobody knows better on what went on than Joe Reed.”
Reed, the county’s public works director now and back then, said the blizzard made local officials realize there needed to be improvements in emergency preparedness.
“It is the only time I remember seeing it snowing and lightning at the same time,” Reed said.
Chattooga was right in the middle of the cyclonic storm that stretched from Canada to Honduras. Snow started falling on Friday, March 12.
Officials knew it would snow, but they never suspected how much it would paralyze the community with road closures, falling trees and knocking out electricity.
Reed had stationed several large pieces of machinery and snow ploughs throughout the county. But those preparations could not handle the wrath of the blizzard that dumped 24 inches of snow.
As the snow arrived, so did the 40 mile per hour wind gales.
“The snow was blowing sideways. The snow would hit us and it felt like spit wads hitting you,” former Chattooga County Commissioner Jim Parker said.
Parker, who lives in a rural part south of Lyerly, thought he would go home Friday night and sleep three or four hours and come back to work and help the public works department clear roads.
The former commissioner was less than a mile from his house when he encountered the first tree across the roadway. He was stuck and had to walk home.
Parker would not return to work as he thought. Waking up Saturday morning the commissioner found a winter wonderland with hundreds of fallen trees crisscrossing the landscape.
“We worked Saturday to noon Sunday just to get to Lyerly,” Parker said.
The Parker household was without power for nine days. He remembers taking three baths during that time –two in a nearby creek.
“In that creek, it did not take long to bathe,” Parker recalls about the frigid waters.
When Parker made it back to his office Sunday afternoon, he gathered the public works employees and had prayer.
“Those guys were working in dangerous situations… We give the Lord credit for getting us through it,” Parker said.
Not everyone made it through the blizzard, however.
Marcy Ann Henderson, 17, and her 13-year-old brother, Clint Lee Henderson, died in a house fire on Ridge Street. No fire department could reach the house due to the ice and heavy snow.
In addition, K.C. Brown, of Summerville, died Sunday from a sudden illness suffered while he was trying to help remove a vehicle from the snow near his home.
“The snow was beautiful, but it was deadly too,” Reed said.
He estimates that 10,000 trees fell across the county. Many of them were pine trees which toppled utility lines. About 6,000-7,000 local Georgia Power customers went without services for days. All of North Georgia Electrical Membership customers lost power (about 6,800 customers at the time).
Georgia Power called upon county workers to clear a path over Taylor Ridge. Georgia Power crews were stuck on the south side and could not travel over the ridge.
Once Reed arrived on the south side, he found only two Georgia Power trucks.
“You all are going to need more than two trucks,” Reed told them.
A foreman told Reed that they could handle restoring power in the county. Days later, the foreman found Reed and apologized.
“He said, ‘You didn’t lie,'” Reed said.
Georgia Power ended up sending 220 workmen to restore services. They even used a “Chinook” helicopter to place utility poles.
North Georgia EMC also experienced similar troubles. They had to replace 150 utility poles.
A minimum of $2.1 million in winter storm-related damages were reported to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).
Former Chattooga Sheriff Gary McConnell was working as the director of GEMA when the storm struck. President Bill Clinton took a helicopter tour of the affected North Georgia area with McConnell.
After the helicopter ride, President Clinton declared Chattooga and 39 other North Georgia counties as disaster areas. That declaration made local governments eligible for up to 75 percent reimbursement for the cost of removing snow from highways, roads and streets.
The blizzard taught county officials a lesson. They learned more equipment and preparations were needed for future storms.
Immediately after the storm, Commissioner Parker agreed to buy the county’s first four-wheel drive vehicle. Then a salt spreader was purchased. Reed and Parker then got the Hays Prison crews to build a salt house on Stockade Road. Now that house contains 300 tons of salt for county roadways.
Generators were another factor in the storm. Back then, generators were not as common. The sheriff’s department, jail, ambulance service and even the local nursing home did not have them.
The need for a generator was also noted among the local population. Now a lot of people have installed generators in their home, Reed said.
“Back then, people did not have generators,” Reed said.
The creation of the 911 center was also an improvement. Communication between utilities, county workers and emergency responders was limited. Now the county has several antennas and radio systems they can rely on if a storm strikes.
The advancement of cellphone technology has increased the county’s communication capabilities.
Even the sheriff’s department is better equipped now. They have four-wheel drive vehicles and ATVS to use in case of a storm.