Officials say they are prepared to meet storm's challenge

CONYERS — Newton and Rockdale counties were among 43 counties added to Gov. Nathan Deal’s state of emergency area Tuesday. In all, 88 counties were expected to be impacted by what the National Weather Service termed a “storm of historical proportions,” bringing significant amounts of snow, freezing rain and ice to the state.

Area emergency personnel said Tuesday they were ready to meet the challenge, but they asked for cooperation from the public by staying off roadways and taking safety precautions.

Dan Morgan, chief of Rockdale Fire Rescue and director of Rockdale County’s Emergency Management Agency, said emergency responders were sharpening chainsaws and getting chains ready to put on vehicle tires in anticipation of the impact that ice and snow will have on power lines and roadways.

“We are projected to have more ice than snow this time,” said Morgan, “which will make it harder on the stuff that is above ground — all the tree limbs and power lines and phone lines — especially with the wind that is supposed to kick up on Wednesday.”

Morgan said more than half an inch of ice is expected in the area.

“Power lines and trees come down with a quarter inch, and then you have wind on top of that,” he said.

Morgan said his crews will be out looking for fallen trees and tree limbs that block public rights of way and impede access for emergency responders. If power lines are involved, however, he said his crews will rope off the area and secure it until power company crews arrive.

Morgan said his departments will work in conjunction with Rockdale’s Department of Transportation to keep roadways passable.

“We will be in constant communication, back and forth,” he said. “We know the areas we are going to hit first because they are high traffic areas that are used by emergency responders.”

Roadways in front of fire stations will be cleared so that firetrucks can respond when necessary, he said. Access points to the Rockdale Medical Center emergency department will be kept clear, along with major intersections and thoroughfares.

Morgan said a sand mixture is typically used on roadways initially to provide traction. If icing becomes more prevalent, he said salt will be added to the mixture and applied to problem areas.

Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Scott Freeman said the department has notified all personnel of staffing plans for the winter weather event.

“We have in place plans to get employees into the Sheriff’s Office, especially into the jail, and also to assist Rockdale Hospital to get their emergency personnel in, such as nurses,” Freeman said.

Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson said all CPD officers were told to be prepared to stay throughout the night, if needed. He said the department has rented a block of rooms at Cherokee Run for anyone who needs to stay there and will have cots set up at the police department for personnel. They were also preparing to put snow chains on patrol cars when it becomes necessary and have other equipment they will deploy.

Freeman also asked that residents be cautious of downed power lines and not drive over them in their cars.

“I would urge parents to be very cautious about allowing your kids to go out in areas where there are power lines without inspecting it first and to give them an extreme stern warning to stay away from any downed power lines because we do not want a death as a result of electrocution,” he said.

The best advice, Freeman said, is to stay off the roads and out of harm’s way.

“Traffic conditions will be perilous,” he said. “It is our recommendation from the Sheriff’s Office to stay off the roads. If there is an emergency situation, let the responders come to you rather than you trying to go to the hospital or take matters into your own hands, because you can certainly make it worse.”

Morgan also asked that motorists respect road closing signs and barricades.

“Please do not go around barricades,” he said. “Either we are down there working and you are going to hit us or you are going to hurt yourself.”

In Newton County, government offices closed at 2 p.m. Tuesday and planned to remain closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Chairman Keith Ellis cautioned residents on Monday to stay off the roads and be sure to have supplies beforehand.