The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

ATLANTA — More than 1.2 million people in Georgia remained without power early Tuesday, and downed trees and power lines cut off dozens of metro Atlanta roads — the parting gifts of Irma.

Flooding left coastal Glynn County closed "until further notice," with St. Simons Island cut off from the mainland. Tybee Island off Savannah was likewise inaccessible. Power was off for about 170,000 people along the coast.

The storm took at least three lives. Two people were crushed by falling trees in north metro Atlanta. A South Georgia man was swept off his roof by high winds.

There were indications that the mass return of Florida evacuees had begun Tuesday morning. Traffic was backing up on I-75 south of Atlanta early Tuesday and also on 75 southbound above Macon.

About 140 flights into and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were canceled Tuesday morning, after more than 1,000 cancellations the day before.

Some metro cities and counties began to post lists of closed roads.

Even as Irma was shredding large portions of Georgia on Monday, Georgia was shredding large portions of Irma. The massive storm, nourished for days by the warm waters of the Atlantic, drew no strength at all from the red soils of the Peach State and began to break apart.

By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Irma was a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph; the storm's center appeared to be still straddling the Georgia-Alabama border near Columbus. But it was expected to continue moving northwest into Alabama and onward to western Tennessee late in the day.

"The big wind is done," said Channel 2 meteorologist Karen Minton, who said rains in Atlanta will be tailing off toward noon. "We might even see some breaks in those clouds late this afternoon."

As of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, power was still out for about 500,000 customers in metro Atlanta, according to outage maps from Georgia Power and the state's electrical membership cooperatives.

The total, 1.24 million statewide, was down from nearly 1.5 million on Monday as utility crews swarmed over the state, working hard to get the lights back on.

Irma was a collection of firsts for Atlanta and Georgia:

Atlanta had never been under a tropical storm warning before.

—No governor had ever declared a state of emergency in all 159 Georgia counties before Gov. Nathan Deal did so in advance of Irma.

—MARTA had never suspended both bus and train service as it did on Monday.

—MARTA was back with limited service first thing this morning and planned to return to full capacity by afternoon.

On the coast, anyone who even tried to leave St. Simons was stopped by Glynn County police Monday night and ordered to figure out a way to stay, because the causeway leading back to the mainland was closed after being covered in water.

The county was even asking residents not to shower, because sewer capacity was stretched so thin.

It took several hours for the ocean to recede from St. Simons beaches. When it finally did, it was clear the tide had made it at least 100 yards on shore, carrying the remants of docks and sprinkler systems and rocking chairs.

In Atlanta, meteorologist Minton said the high winds of Monday had turned into the breezes of Tuesday — a likely maximum of 17 mph in the metro area Tuesday, compared with gusts up to 64 mph Monday. She said the winds would trail off to 10 mph or so by day's end.

But the widespread power outages and road closings complicated the commute on Tuesday morning. Some traffic lights in metro Atlanta were blinking red, some weren't working at all.

People were urged to stay off the roads if possible. And Monday evening, state officials asked that Florida evacuees who were obviously eager to get home wait just a while longer before jumping on I-75 south.

"We need for people to stay where they are until Georgia and Florida officials say it's safe," said Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale. "We just don't want anyone to head back and get stuck."