At least 1 dead in Georgia as Hurricane Irma crosses Southeast

Hundreds of local residents being evacuated from the city fill the Savannah Civic Center during a mandatory evacuation from Hurricane Irma on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Savannah, Ga. Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday. Thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands, and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes. Pic/AP/PTI
Hundreds of local residents being evacuated from the city fill the Savannah Civic Center during a mandatory evacuation from Hurricane Irma on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Savannah, Ga. Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday. Thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands, and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes. Pic/AP/PTI

Irma killed one person in Georgia as storm surge and rain flooded coastal communities today, winds sent trees crashing onto homes and the world's busiest airport in Atlanta canceled hundreds of flights as the storm's punch was felt statewide despite its weakened status as a tropical storm.

The city of Savannah, on Georgia's coast, was evacuated for the second time in less than a year because of the storm, and the National Weather Service in Peachtree City confirmed that Atlanta -- more than 400 kilometers inland from either the Atlantic or Gulf coasts -- was under a tropical storm warning for the first time.

One storm-related death had been confirmed in rural Worth County, Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Catherine Howden said afternoon. She had no further details.

The storm fatality occurred in southwest Georgia, where Irma's center crossed over from Florida this afternoon.

Tropical storm winds reached more than 644 kilometers from its center, giving its powerful gusts and drenching rains a far reach.

Storm surge and rainfall arriving at high tide this afternoon swamped communities along Georgia's 160-kilometer coast. On Tybee Island east of Savannah, Holland Zellers was heading home to grab a kayak so he could reach a home where his mother had taken shelter near the beach.

Shawn Gillen, Tybee Island's city manager, said waters appeared to be receding quickly but the flooding was extensive on the island of more than 3,000 residents.

"There's a lot of homes that have water in the them right now," Gillen said.

The tidal surge also sent water and damaged boats rushing ashore for more than three blocks into downtown St. Marys just north of the Georgia-Florida state line, said St. Marys police Lt. Shannon Brock. Brock said no injuries had been reported.

Almost all of Georgia was under a tropical storm warning.

A similar warning covered parts of South Carolina and most of eastern Alabama, where schools and businesses were closed today. Alabama Emergency Management Agency
meteorologist Jim Stefcovich said strong winds could linger in the state until 2 a.m. tomorrow.

About 800 flights had been canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which remained operational today as its staff monitored storm conditions with help from the Federal Aviation Administration, airport spokesman Andrew Gobeil said.

By this afternoon, more than 8,00,000 Georgia Power and EMC customers mostly in coastal and south Georgia were without power. Alabama Power said there were 12,000 outages mostly in the southeastern area of the state.

In Atlanta, falling trees and limbs may pose the most significant threat to life and property.

Amy Phuong, parks and recreation commissioner for the city, says six crews already were handling calls for felled trees around the city this afternoon, as winds and rain began to intensify.

Phuong says the crews expect to stay busy as Irma passes over the area and in the storm's aftermath.

About half the city's land area is covered by trees -- a larger share than most urban centers Georgia's coast was largely empty after evacuations were ordered for the second time in less than year. The coast's nearly 5,40,000 residents fled last October ahead of Hurricane Matthew, which caused an estimated USD 500 million in damage and killed three people.

The National Weather Service said flooding rains were a major concern today, with 20 to 38 centimeters of rainfall predicted in southeast Georgia. Downtown Savannah saw winds today strong enough to make palm trees bend and sway.

Further inland in Lowndes County near the Georgia-Florida line, firefighters rescued occupants of a few homes struck by falling trees, said county spokeswoman Paige Dukes.

No serious injuries were reported. With wind gusts reaching 112 kph, officials ordered a daytime curfew for the 1,12,000 residents of Lowndes County, which includes Valdosta.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority suspended all bus and rail services today and would decide later whether to resume operations today, spokesman Erik Burton said.

Georgia Power spokeswoman Holly Crawford said today the areas with the most power outages were coastal Glynn and Chatham counties. She says the utility company had about 3,400 employees on standby to respond, but cautioned repairs could take several days.

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