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President declares emergency in Georgia (UPDATED 2:45 p.m.)

Eighty-eight counties are covered in the emergency declaration

Gov. Nathan Deal listens to a question at a news conference Monday in which he detailed how state officials were preparing to deal with two waves of winter weather that were hitting the Atlanta area through Thursday morning. (Special photo)

Gov. Nathan Deal listens to a question at a news conference Monday in which he detailed how state officials were preparing to deal with two waves of winter weather that were hitting the Atlanta area through Thursday morning. (Special photo)

UPDATE

ATLANTA -- President Obama has declared a state of emergency in georgia, making federal resources available for what some forecasters are predicting to be a historical winter storm.

Gov. Nathan Deal said this afternoon that president had declared an emergency in the state and had ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts to emergency conditions resulting from a severe winter storm that began Monday.

“On behalf of Georgians, I appreciate the president’s quick response to my request. I asked last night for federal assistance in this storm response,” Deal said. “My primary request to the president was for generators in the case of power outages.

"The federal declaration makes those available, but it also allows us to ask for other supplies, such as food, blankets and commodities, as needs develop.”

The president's action, according to the governor's office, authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Clarke, Cobb, Dade, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Elbert, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Franklin, Fulton, Gilmer, Gordon, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Haralson, Hart, Jackson, Lincoln, Lumpkin, Madison, Murray, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, Walton, White, Whitfield and Wilkes.

Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.


ATLANTA — After Gov. Nathan Deal took the pre-emptive step of declaring a state of emergency in 45 counties in the northern part of the state, officials were expecting to get a better idea today as to how strong the second wave of a winter storm will be when it hits tonight and Wednesday. That list of counties grew to 88 this morning.

“Ice in any context is the biggest enemy we have,” Deal said at a news conference that was streamed live on the Internet at noon Monday.

Monday morning, Deal declared a state of emergency in 14 north Georgia counties where frozen precipitation that could develop into a significant winter storm expected expected to start Monday night. That initial list included Murray, Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Towns, Pickens, Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Cherokee, Forsyth, Hall, Banks and Jackson counties. After the news conference, Deal added 31 to the list: Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Chattooga, Gordon, Floyd, Bartow, Polk, Paulding, Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Barrow, Haralson, Carroll, Douglas, DeKalb, Clarke, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Wilkes, Walton, Rabun, Habersham, Stephens, Franklin, Hart, Madison, Elbert and Lincoln counties.

This morning, Deal added 43 more counties to the list: The additional counties are: Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Burke, Butts, Clayton, Columbia, Coweta, Crawford, Emanuel, Fayette, Glascock, Greene, Hancock, Heard, Henry, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Laurens, McDuffie, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Peach, Pike, Putnam, Richmond, Rockdale, Screven, Spalding, Taliaferro, Treutlen, Troup, Twiggs, Upson, Warren, Washington and Wilkinson counties.

That brings more than half of the state's 159 under a state of emergency as the winter storms bear down on Georgia.

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather advisory through 7 p.m. today for rain mixed with snow and sleet along and north of a line from Carrollton to Atlanta and Washington. Accumulations of up to an inch of snow was expected. From tonight at 7 p.m. through 7 a.m. Thursday, the service said a watch had been issued for the affected area, which could receive another inch or two of snow.

During the evenings as temperatures drop, the wet road surfaces are likely to freeze, making hazardous driving conditions, forecasters said. Driving conditions were expected to be hazardous early today, with ice accumulations of roadways making travel conditions hazardous to impossible on Wednesday, the NWS said. In addition to hazardous driving, the expected ice could lead to downed powerlines and loss of electricity.

“There is still some uncertainty in the forecast for Wednesday,” NWS officials said Monday, “but confidence is increasing in the potential for a significant winter storm.”

Deal said Monday that the state was preparing for two waves of winter storms, one closely following the other. “We’re expecting two events,” the governor said. “We’re expecting the second to be more severe than the first.”

For that reason, he said, it did not make sense to expend all the state’s ice-fighting materials in the first wave, which started Monday evening. But not seeing all the available equipment deployed this morning should not be misconstrued, he said. “That does not mean we’re not prepared for the bigger event coming the following day,” the governor said.

State officials should have a better handle today as to just how severe the second event will be, he said, with indications being that schools should be closed and traveling should be curtailed in the affected areas on Wednesday.

After the problems with the Jan. 28 storm that closed traffic arteries and stranded motorists, Deal said officials were trying to ensure that they made the right call on this event.

“Overreaction has an economic impact,” he said. “Under-reaction has an economic impact. … We know how difficult it is to be precise” in predictions of weather.

While local governments were in charge of operating shelters, the state had contacted the Red Cross and was ready to assist if needed. National Guardsmen were ready to be called in on the governor’s and Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s orders, with about 700 four-wheel drive vehicles available in the Atlanta area.

In the Albany area, the Weather Service this morning was predicting rain, but none of the frozen precipitation. The chance of rain was 70 percent today, rising to 90 percent Wednesday before tapering off to 30 percent Thursday. Highs are expected to be 51 today, 37 Wednesday and 54 Thursday, with lows of 37 tonight and 31 Wednesday night. Rain was expected to reach from a fifth of an inch to a little over a third of an inch in the Albany area today, with about an inch of rain coming Wednesday.

Eleven plow trucks and 54 employees from Southwest Georgia were deployed by Georgia Department of Transportation Monday to assist north Georgia officials. The workers included drivers, managers and mechanics from the DOT district office in Tifton.

The decisions Monday came after Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who also was at the news conference, came under strong criticism for not reacting quickly enough when snow hit the metro Atlanta area on Jan. 28. That resulted in government offices and schools letting out at the same time, which exacerbated congestion on Atlanta’s highways and the Interstate highways.

Thousands of motorists were stranded in stalled traffic, some for 20 or more hours.

Deal issued an apology for the state’s lack of preparedness and slow response to the January snow storm. “I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not make preparations early enough to avoid these consequences,” he said at a Jan. 30 news conference. On Feb. 3, he announced the formation of a task force on winter weather warning and preparation, and outlined immediate reforms that were taking place in the way the state dealt with such circumstances.

Deal said Monday that he believes local-level emergency management officials will work well with GEMA and the state to ensure the safety of their residents.

“We have had great cooperation,” he said, adding that, just as government agencies were doing their best to be prepared for the storm, individuals should prepare, too.

“We have good people in this state,” he said. “They can make good judgments.”