Coastal residents prepare for massive cleanup effort


TYBEE ISLAND — It wasn’t bad enough that June Saunders’ home flooded. It caught fire, too.

The 57-year resident of this low-lying barrier island was outside, waiting for power to be restored after Tropical Storm Irma swamped this coastal community, when she heard a zap.

“I walked back in the house and it was like, ‘whoosh!’ The wall was on fire,” said Saunders, who had to be rescued a day earlier when a wall of fast-moving water filled her house and wedged the door shut. “The fireman was so cute. He said, ‘Ma’am, I’m sorry. I’m going to have to bust this wall down.’”

“Look around,” Saunders said she told him, “do you think busting a wall is going to hurt me any more than I already have been?’”

Such was the scene here on Wednesday, a day after access to the island was restored following emergency bridge inspections. More than 300 properties on Tybee — population about 3,000 — still were without power Wednesday afternoon, but city officials were hustling to help their folks clean up.

“We are working on getting our community qualified for federal Individual (Disaster) Assistance so that individuals are able to obtain financial assistance for storm damage,” Mayor Jason Buelterman said in a lengthy social media post that provided details about debris pickup and other updates.

The Salvation Army manned a mobile headquarters offering meals and cleaning supplies.

“That really helps us out a lot,” a grateful Gene Miles said as Henry Riley handed him a bucket of essentials.

“The water came in so fast. In 30 minutes it went from being ankle deep on the road to here,” Miles said, indicating a nearly waist-high level. Irma brought easily twice as much flooding as Hurricane Matthew did last year, he estimated.

The heavy rainfall that accompanied Irma worsened the flooding along Georgia’s coast.

Miles has lived on Tybee for more than 30 years and, like so many residents, had barely recovered from Matthew when Irma came marching in. He rode out Irma at home, unlike in October 2016 with Matthew, and was glad to be able to start an immediate cleanup.

“A lot more people stayed this time because last time it took so long to get back on the island,” he said. “Their houses just sat there moldering.”

That’s no doubt what storm evacuees from Glynn County have been fearing. Residents may return to the county at 8 a.m. today; the causeway to St. Simons Island had already reopened.

But the county warned in a statement that critical infrastructure is still fragile.

“Due to the limitations of sanitary sewer, traffic control and power, there are hazards to public health that remain,” the statement said. “Glynn County will be rebuilding from this disaster for months to come.”

The county had been closed for Irma cleanup this week, with police patrolling highways preventing people from reentering. Officials said the lockdown was necessary to allow crews to work undaunted by traffic on littered highways and streets, but it added a layer of uncertainty to already disrupted lives.

Jill Jernigan lives in also-battered Camden County and runs a real estate company in Glynn. She was eager to check on her properties and, as a breast cancer patient, she was anxious about being able to keep a radiation treatment appointment. She’s also had to deal with about a foot and a half of water that Irma left in her home along the Glynn-Camden border.

“So much is affected,” she said. “It humbles you, takes you back to what’s important, food, water.”

Buster Clark, who lives in Brantley County and works as a site manager on the Brunswick port, was trying to get to work on Wednesday when the police stopped him. He later found out there wasn’t any power at the port anyway.

“We’ll have ships piling up on us,” Clark said.

Authorities allowed Juan Lopez past a a guarded checkpoint, though, after he said three magic words: “We do roofing.”

His family evacuated to Tennessee before returning, hauling a trailer full of supplies.

“We’ll wait till they let us in,” he said. He didn’t wait long. A deputy checked his ID and welcomed him back to Glynn County: “Y’all can go.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

DeKalb CEO Thurmond to give water billing update
DeKalb CEO Thurmond to give water billing update

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond will detail progress made toward addressing the water billing crisis during an update meeting 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Maloof Auditorium, 1300 Commerce Drive, Decatur. Before the meeting, DeKalb County water billing representatives will be available to assist customers with new water billing disputes and general water billing...
Cops search 218 acres of north Ga. hunting land for missing DeKalb mom
Cops search 218 acres of north Ga. hunting land for missing DeKalb mom

Chamblee police won’t divulge why they chose 218 acres of hunting land in north Georgia to search for Cecilia Bustamante — “yet.” Capt. Ernesto Ford also said there were no updates “yet” in the missing person’s case from October, when she left home mysteriously. The search in Hart County on Monday...
Police: Cyclist struck by vehicle in N. Fulton in ‘serious condition’
Police: Cyclist struck by vehicle in N. Fulton in ‘serious condition’

The Alpharetta Department of Public Safety is investigating an incident that sent a bicyclist to the hospital on Wednesday. Police said the incident occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 20, along Webb Bridge Road. A motor vehicle struck the bicyclist, leaving the rider in “serious condition,” police said. Another vehicle was also involved...
Meetings will help shape Jimmy Carter district in Norcross
Meetings will help shape Jimmy Carter district in Norcross

The Gwinnett Community Improvement District is seeking input at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Jimmy Carter Boulevard Livable Centers Initiative community visioning sessions. At this first public meeting, community members will be introduced to the project process, focus, and schedule. Participants are invited to visit three different restaurants/shops to provide...
Powder Springs Council candidate disqualified
Powder Springs Council candidate disqualified

No election will be held for Powder Springs City Council Ward 1 since now there is only one candidate. Alison Feliciano no longer meets the qualifications to run because her qualifying fee check was returned for insufficient funds, according to Janine Eveler, director of the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration. The remaining candidate,...
More Stories