Fueled by higher-than-normal ocean temperatures and veering more to the west than anticipated, Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph.
The storm’s high winds and heavy rain tore down power lines and clogged interstate highways and local roads with downed trees and debris as it slammed into Valdosta. The city was still largely without power Thursday.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk told The Telegraph that the storm was “something I never want to see again.”
Paulk said that in the storm’s aftermath, amid felled trees and snapped power lines, locals were inquiring about which roads were closed.
“It’s easier,” he said, “to tell you which ones are open.”
Interstate 75, which runs through Valdosta, the county seat there, was closed for about six hours.
“At times, it was blowing and raining so hard you couldn’t see 15 feet in front of you,” Paulk said. “The utility people, they had to pull their (crews) back in it got so rough.”
Scores of county roads were blocked by fallen trees. Telephone poles in spots were keeled over at 45-degree angles.
“You’d run up on a tree that had the road blocked,” Paulk said. “You’d turn around and there’d be another one down behind you.”
‘You don’t count on the state here’
There wasn’t a single road in Fargo free of keeled-over trees and snapped branches as of 1:30 pm. At least three roads were impassable, including U.S. Highway 441 north of town.
Roy Abbott, the mayor of the town of about 250 people at the western entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp, spent the morning driving down every one of Fargo’s roads to inspect the damage.
“We got beat up pretty bad,” Abbott said by phone while preparing to head back out on his tractor to clear debris.
Fargo was prepared for worse than what it got. Until late last night, Abbott believed his town was in the path of the eye of the storm as it passed over Georgia — but its route shifted some 50 miles to the west, traveling over Valdosta instead.
A shelter was set up in a city auditorium. Abbott encouraged people in mobile homes and other unstable housing to make use of the refuge.
“If you live in a ramshackle type house, there’s been a few people I told, ‘I think you best go over to the auditorium.’ And they did, they took my advice, they went over there,” he said.
Abbott said some 20 or 25 people, mostly families, stayed in the auditorium Tuesday night. Another shelter was set up in the corner of a church.
While Fargo rode out the worst of the storm, the mayor said, “the wind is still kicking up every so often.”
Hard work remained: clearing trees and repairing property damage. Fargo will need resources it doesn’t have.
“We’re gonna assess what we need done and hopefully the state will help us. We’re gonna need some manpower,” Abbott said.
He was skeptical help would come in sufficient quantity.
“If we need, the county will help us, but the state — you don’t count on the state here,” he said. “The state is not too concerned about this part of Georgia.”
Gusts more than 80 mph
Idalia left tens of thousands of Georgians without power from Valdosta to Tifton, east to Waycross and up to Savannah.
Matt Pittman, who runs Pittman’s Taxidermy in Homerville, a town of about 2,400 people between Valdosta and Waycross, said the brunt of Idalia had been “pretty rough.”
As the storm’s eye moved through at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, Pittman said by phone that power was out at his place south of town, as it was for thousands across that region on the northwestern fringes of the Okefenokee.
“A tree just fell on the neighbor’s house a few minutes ago, but they’re OK,” Pittman said.
He figured some of the gusts that ripped through topped 80 mph.
“I just was talking to a neighbor that lives probably 5 or 6 miles down the road and he’s got trees down all in his yard,” Pittman said. “He had a small metal building that looked like beer can if you crumpled it up in your hand.”