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Local crews dispatched to storm-ravaged areas

Special Photo.  Gwinnett Firefighters from GSAR-2 (Gwinnett Fire Technical Rescue Team) prepare to respond to assist with search and rescue efforts in Northwest Georgia on Thursday. Personnel run down a checklist and load gear on the Squad Unit prior to leaving Gwinnett.

Special Photo. Gwinnett Firefighters from GSAR-2 (Gwinnett Fire Technical Rescue Team) prepare to respond to assist with search and rescue efforts in Northwest Georgia on Thursday. Personnel run down a checklist and load gear on the Squad Unit prior to leaving Gwinnett.

LAWRENCEVILLE — The tremendous storm system that killed hundreds across the South and pummeled communities in a periphery around metro Atlanta left Gwinnett County relatively unscathed.

After daybreak Thursday, local authorities counted their blessings and sent crews to assist in battered areas of northwest Georgia.

Seven members from Gwinnett County Fire Department’s technical rescue team departed about 11 a.m. from a fire station near the Mall of Georgia for the city of Ringgold, where a suspected tornado touched down near Interstate 75, hit downtown and smashed a residential neighborhood.

At a glance

A synopsis of storm-related damage overnight in Gwinnett. No injuries were reported:

• About 12:34 a.m., a felled tree blocked two eastbound lanes of Ga. Highway 316 near Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville. The tree was soon removed.

• Fire crews responded at 12:40 a.m. to a tree down on a car in the 1100 block of Empire Circle in Lawrenceville.

• A tree came down on an unoccupied home about 12:50 a.m. in the 1800 block of Fort River Way, Dacula, officials said.

Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said the local team would reinforce ongoing rescue efforts or search new sites. The team has experience with tornado warpaths, having responded to Buford when a twister touched down last November and to downtown Atlanta when a tornado slammed the city in 2008.

By responding, “we’re able to support our brother and sister firefighters from the affected departments, and the people in the communities that have been effected,” Rutledge said.

Officials told the AP at least seven people died in surrounding Catoosa County, with dozens more injured. The county’s sheriff said rescue efforts were focused on damaged fast-food restaurants and motels near the interstate.

Additional technical response team members remained in service in Gwinnett to cover for those sent to help, Rutledge said.

Gwinnett’s largest utility provider, Jackson EMC, dispatched four crews, totaling 26 workers and 16 vehicles, to assist two electric cooperatives in Jasper and Habersham that sustained significant damage.

The National Weather Service said at least five tornadoes were reported in Georgia, but none near Gwinnett.

Local fire crews responded to three incidents involving felled trees but reported no injuries during a storm that rolled over Gwinnett between midnight and 2 a.m. Hundreds were left temporarily without power.

Jackson EMC reported that 18 outages affecting 447 customers were cleared by 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

The largest outage happened at 12:25 a.m. near Beaver Ruin Road and Steve Reynolds Boulevard, affecting 390 of Jackson EMC’s 103,000 Gwinnett customers, said spokeswoman Bonnie Jones. Power was restored shortly after 2 a.m., she said.

The storm system brought a brief period of gusty winds, rain and lightning to portions of Gwinnett but, as with other parts of metro Atlanta, seemed to weaken as it drew closer.

“Obviously, we dodged a tremendous bullet last night,” Rutledge said Thursday.

Regionally, the Associated Press reported the storm system spawned dozens of tornadoes and killed at least 215 across the Southeast, including 13 in Georgia. The death toll was highest in Alabama, where officials had confirmed 131 dead by noon. Officials called it the deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly 40 years.

Governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia’s Nathan Deal have each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.