It was the calm after the storm as Columbus-area residents awoke Thursday to limited physical damage, but thousands of power outages, while the U.S. Postal Service also halted mail and package delivery in the city. Still, the local area appeared to have escaped the worst of Tropical Storm Michael as it spun quickly through Georgia after hammering the Florida Gulf Coast.
The remnants of what was Hurricane Michael moved quickly through the center of the state overnight, with the Columbus area experiencing periodic driving rain and wind gusts up to 40 mph. That was enough force to knock down some trees in the area and zap the power to more than 4,000 Georgia Power customers in Columbus, the utility said Thursday morning.
Across the Chattahoochee River in Russell County, there were more than 2,100 Alabama Power customers without electricity just after 9 a.m. Thursday, with that dropping to 81 by 6 p.m., according to the website, PowerOutage.US. In Lee County, north of Phenix City, nearly 4,800 customers did not have electricity early in the day, but that had fallen to about three dozen by late afternoon, while about 5,000 customers were without power in the morning in Barbour County, just south of Russell County. The total was about 1,900 later in the day. The website showed Muscogee County had just over 400 without power as of 6 p.m.
Areas east of Columbus were hit much harder, however. Flint Energies, which provides power service from Columbus to Warner Robins, Ga., reported that as of 10 a.m. Thursday it had just over 18,000 customers without power and that it likely will take five to six days to get electricity back on for everyone.
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“Flint has brought in extra crews from Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Arkansas to assist with restoration,” Ty Diamond, Flint’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Flint will have crews working around the clock until all members are restored.”
Another significant impact was mail delivery in the Columbus area, with the U.S. Postal Service putting service on hold until it could get a handle on damages at its facilities in the city and at its processing plant in Macon, Ga., which is a hub used to sort mail and packages to and from Columbus. Locally, the ZIP code areas that didn’t receive mail were those starting with “318” and “319.”
“The Macon Processing Plant is expected to resume operations on Friday,” Kanickewa “Nikki” Johnson, a strategic communications specialist with the USPS, said via email Thursday. “To ensure the safety of our customers and our employees, we will assess the aftermath of the storm prior to reopening our post offices or resuming mail delivery. At this time, we anticipate resumption of delivery and retail services at post offices in Columbus on Friday, but that is dependent on our evaluation of conditions. We apologize for any inconvenience and are working to restore service as soon as we can safely do so.”
The postal service said customers can check for alerts on its website at http://about.usps.com/news/service-alerts/welcome.htm.
With the tropical system sparing the Columbus area the brunt of its destruction, the Columbus Consolidated Government, which closed early Wednesday, reopened for business Thursday morning.
However, Columbus State University made the decision as the storm approached the area that it would be closed Thursday “out of abundance of caution,” with classes and activities resuming Friday. Columbus Technical College, Chattahoochee Valley Community College and Troy University also were keeping their doors shut Thursday in the wake of the storm.
Most local school systems were doing the same, with classes canceled Thursday in Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee and Russell counties. Phenix City and Lee County schools were open.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Tropical Storm Michael had dropped to maximum wind speeds of 50 mph, far lower than the catastrophic 155 mph punch it had given the Florida communities of Panama City Beach and Mexico Beach as it roared ashore Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane. Michael exited Georgia and South Carolina Thursday afternoon and was moving through North Carolina into Virginia with heavy rain bands and thunderstorms.
“Tropical Storm Michael will continue to weaken as it moves away from Georgia. Impacts will diminish significantly this afternoon, but until then some gusty winds and periods of moderate rain will continue,” the National Weather Service said Thursday morning as it cancelled all watches and warnings in central and north Georgia.