By Dusty Vassey



TIFTON - Despite drenching rains and howling winds that wrecked Florida and left many other Georgia counties with heavy damage, Tift County was able to escape Tropical Storm Jeanne relatively unharmed. Even though the storm was probably the worst of the four dangerous storms that have affected the area in the last two months, Tift County had less damage than many other local areas.

"Well, no one was injured," said David Haire, public information officer for the Tift County Emergency Management Agency. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Jeanne did produce isolated flooding, some damage to property and washed out roads, but no one reported injuries from the former hurricane. However, the storm brought more rain than the previous storms Charley, Frances and Ivan, and the winds were equal to those of Frances.

"I'm thinking we had a little more flooding (than from Frances)," said Mike Flippo, interim Tift County EMA director. "I'd say this one was probably a bit worse."

The eye of the storm passed through neighboring Worth County and Colquitt County, bringing the storm's center closer to Tift County than either of the previous three. Jeanne brought at least 5 1/2 inches of rain Monday and a few more inches Sunday evening. Wind gusts of 50 mph were recorded in the county. Other areas of the state received more harmful effects from the storm.

"Damage is widespread," said Flippo "The counties south of us sure enough got hit hard, a lot more flooding and damage."

"I feel like we're fortunate when compared to a lot of the places I heard about."

Tift County was not completely unscathed, however.

Fourteen roads were closed because of flooding or fallen trees and flooding was reported from several areas, mostly in the northeastern part of the county. Areas of Richards Drive, Kent Road, the Ramada Inn on Hunt Road, McGinnis Mills subdivision and Alabama Drive, near the Georgia State Patrol post, reported the worst of the flooding.

John and Ramona Bennett, who live on Old Ocilla Road, received extensive flooding in their yard. The flood waters damaged most of the property in their garage, after one of the earlier storms had already ripped the roof off, throwing it on two vehicles. Before Monday, they already had $30,000 in storm damage. Now they have more.

"The water was like over knee high," said Ramona Bennett. "I ain't never seen nothing like it. It was a mess."

"We just hope and pray that nobody else gets nothing else," she said. "Without insurance, I don't see how people are making it. I really don't."

Most of the flooding was contained to the rural parts of the county. The city, and the streets of the city, were relatively unaffected by the heavy rain.

"Those detention ponds in town worked like a charm," said Flippo, who said they "saved no telling how many headaches."

Georgia Power reported at least 800 buildings without electricity in Tift County from the many power lines that were torn down by Jeanne. At least 2000 houses were without power in Georgia Power's local coverage area, which includes other surrounding counties. Officials with the electric company told the EMA that they expected most of those places to have the power restored Monday night.

The EMA reported two businesses which received building damage from winds, Rudy's Tire and La Rosa grocery store. At least two vehicles were damaged by falling trees.

Sunday night, local law enforcement officers went around to mobile homes and other low-lying areas, encouraging people to voluntarily evacuate to shelter. This resulted in 287 people who stayed at the four local shelters, which are now all closed.

"People can be proud of all the emergency agencies," said Flippo. "It was a total team effort. Everybody worked very well together."

No storm-like winds or heavy rains were expected today as Jeanne passes from the area and continues to weaken.

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