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Capitol Notes from Rep. Buddy Harden

Wednesday evening October 10th is a day that most residents of this area and District 148 and those to the south of us will remember for the rest of their lives. The evening that Hurricane Michael, very likely the most powerful storm our area has ever experienced, came through the district. Most of the citizens of this district were without electrical power for at least a week to ten days and many for much longer periods of time. As I write this two weeks later there are still many without power especially to our south. Many homes were damaged by falling trees or debris. Many are still needing shelter.

Farmers of our district lost what was to be a bumper crop of cotton. Many had already harvested peanuts and those that were still in the field were salvaged to some extent. Pecan producers and timber growers were hit with major long-term losses that will take years to recover. Pecan trees that had been in production for decades were taken out by the thousands. This on the heels of Hurricane Irma and tornados in our area just last year that destroyed thousands of trees. One farmer that I spoke with lost about 40 percent of his trees last year to a tornado and another 40 percent of those that were left to Michael. Another lost over 500 trees last year and 800 this year. These were just two that I spoke with personally and I am sure many had similar or greater losses. I read one report that said we lost a million acres of pine trees. A produce farmer friend of mine had losses of many of his crops.

I could go on about the losses that our population suffered but my main purpose here is to recognize some people that went above and beyond in their efforts to help those who suffered losses to Michael.  Local linemen and employees of Crisp County Power Commission and those in other parts of District 148 with one of the EMS organizations or Georgia Power worked long and hard hours to restore electric power as soon as humanly possible.  They were helped by other electric suppliers from other parts of Georgia and other states. My words cannot describe what these men and women went through to restore the electrical grid in the southern part of our state.

Emergency management personnel in all counties affected went to work immediately in cooperation with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Many charitable organizations and agencies including the Georgia Baptist Association were doing what they could to alleviate suffering and meet the needs of thousands of our people as were local churches.  I would like to mention Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock who oversees Crisp County emergency management. I am sure there are other individuals in each of our counties that were just as involved. I spoke with Sheriff Hancock on several occasions when I was called about what help was available for those in need of essentials.  I would like to write an article about the emergency management personnel , the power commission crews, and the aid agencies at a later date but for now let me mention that Sheriff Hancock and his personnel provided 4,000 MREs (meals ready to eat), two tractor truckloads of bagged ice, a trailer load of ice for coolers to help our people without power to save food items that needed refrigeration, plus meals for public safety and linemen.  Law enforcement personnel from 15 different agencies were brought in from outside of the county to help ensure the security of those homes without power. Sheriff Hancock said that FEMA will be paying for 75 percent of the costs of removal of the debris left by the storm and the state will be paying 25 percent.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black visited our area and met with hundreds of farmers to listen to their needs at this time and to let them know what is available and what might be changed for any future events of this type.  Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry and we must do all things possible to protect the people who feed and clothe and provide materials for housing in our state and nation and who export to feed a large part of the world population. We are fortunate to have these two men in these positions in leadership in our state and nation.

On Monday of this week, October 22nd, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston was in Cordele and on a tour of our area to see what might be needed from the Georgia government going forward.  On Tuesday, October 23rd, I received an e-mail from Speaker Ralston’s office informing me that Governor Deal is calling a special session of the Georgia General Assembly to discuss amending the FY 2019 budget to allocate funding to support the recovery efforts following Hurricane Michael, which devastated much of southwest Georgia and the state’s agriculture industry.  That session will begin November 13th and go through at least the 16th. His e-mail concluded, “I know that you will join me in praying for those impacted by the hurricane and those who are working to build and recover.” I will try to keep you updated as this session begins.

Thank you for the privilege to represent the people of District 148 in Georgia. My e-mail address is buddy.harden@house.ga.gov.