ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday the state of Georgia will seek federal disaster assistance after a deadly storm brought destruction to a wide swath of the state's southern region.
The extent of the damage was still unknown, but Deal said he is confident that Georgia has a case for aid.
The storm, which killed 15 people based on a tally at noon Monday, had already prompted a phone call from President Donald Trump, still in his first full day on the job.
Federal emergency staffers are surveying the damage and its impact on communities, Deal said. It was unclear Monday how long it will take to process such a large area.
“I think they understand the urgency of it, and I think with the president’s personal input into that, they will process it very quickly,” Deal said during a press conference held in his office.
As he spoke, crews continued to search for survivors.
Homer Bryson, director of the state’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, wouldn’t say whether he feared the deal toll would climb. He also declined to say how many people were considered missing.
“We’re not going to speculate on that. We have made a first sweep through on search and rescue. We’re going back now and doing a second sweep through,” he said a little after 3 p.m.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to speculate on those numbers,” he said.
Deal has declared a state of emergency now for 16 counties, including two in southwest Georgia that were already under an emergency declaration from storms a few weeks ago.
Rep. Gerald Greene, whose district was still recovering from the last storm, pleaded with colleagues to help by giving to the Red Cross.
“I’m asking you to, please, talk to your people in your district,” Greene said from the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives. “They need clothing, they need canned goods, and they need money to absolutely sustain them during this particular time.”
Rep. Penny Houston, who represents hard-hit Cook and Berrien counties, said some families are unable to pay for funerals.
“We need everybody’s prayers,” Houston said. “Right now, I’m at a loss for words. The whole magnitude of it is just surreal.”
News of the devastation was spreading as Atlanta reveled in the Falcons’ victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, sending the team to the Super Bowl.
Many lawmakers were in a celebratory mood Monday, the first day back after the General Assembly took a week off.
Others, though, returned to the Gold Dome with heavy hearts.
“A lot of these people didn’t even see it coming,” said Rep. Jason Shaw, R-Lakeland.
Shaw, for one, was up early Sunday morning after receiving an alert from the county’s warning system. He spent the morning under a mattress with his family in the hallway.
“You can only be so prepared for something like this. This one happened before a lot of people had even had a chance to wake up,” he said.
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.