Evacuate even if you’re tired of evacuating year after year.
That was what Gov. Brian Kemp told residents Monday as he visited Brunswick and Savannah, two of the many coastal communities that could face life-threatening winds and floods by Wednesday, when Hurricane Dorian could reach Georgia after traveling up Florida’s coast.
“If you decide not to evacuate, I want to be clear, you will be on your own if first responders cannot reach you,” Kemp said in Brunswick. “Please don’t take this risk if you’re able to evacuate.”
Many residents began making preparations and heading inland. But not everyone was ready to leave yet, amid uncertainty over Dorian’s path and how close it would come to Georgia’s coast.
Kemp on Sunday night ordered evacuations for residents east of the I-95 in six coastal counties. The affected Georgia coast stretches north from St. Marys in Camden County on the Florida border to Savannah in Chatham County on the South Carolina border. Evacuations were supposed to begin by noon Monday.
The National Hurricane Center reported at 11 p.m. the Category 4 storm had sustained winds of 130 mph, down from 165 mph earlier, but still extremely dangerous and with gusts up to 160 mph. For much of Monday the storm traveled at just 1 mph, stalling completely late in the day north of Grand Bahama Island. Still, Dorian is expected to reach Florida late Tuesday, then “move dangerously close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday,” the hurricane center said.
A hurricane watch has been extended to the entire Georgia coast. The region is bracing for 4 to 8 inches of rain this week, with 10 inches in isolated areas.
In Brunswick, a crowd of about a hundred people held their lives in trash bags and bed sheets waiting for two Glynn County school buses to evacuate them to Columbus. They were waiting in a shopping plaza with a Winn-Dixie covered in hurricane shutters for the buses because they couldn’t evacuate due to cost or disability.
Gloria Van Cleave was there with her husband, their two sons and Midnight, a black cat she rescued a couple weeks ago.
Her 12-year-old son, sports-loving Ethan, brought two footballs, two basketballs and a soccer ball. Ethan was scared.
“We live in a mobile home park. And we might not have anything to go home to,” he said.
His 42-year-old mother said they’d never been in a hurricane and didn’t feel safe to ride it out in their mobile home by a creek.
But in Savannah, the evacuation order’s appointed time of noon Monday came and went with no apparent rush to get out of town.
Savannah officials had firefighters put protective shutters over the windows of City Hall in the downtown district, which, apart from the sight of the black shutters and the occasional closed shop, looked relatively normal Monday afternoon. People carried shopping bags as they walked from shop to shop. Old folks sat in the leafy park squares that speckle the city and held court as a friendly breeze swayed clumps of Spanish moss in the oaks towering overhead.
Officials at the emergency operations center for Chatham County plotted to help those who couldn’t help themselves get out of the evacuation zone. Buses started rolling toward a shelter in Augusta, where people struggling with disability and old age were boarding for free until the storm passed. On Tuesday morning, more buses head inland carrying other residents who for whatever reason had nowhere to go outside of Savannah or no way to get there, said Randall Matthew, the emergency preparedness manager in Chatham.
“Right now, we’re really threading the needle with this storm,” Matthew said. “It could go from, ‘Man, that was close,’ to something that is really awful.”
Dennis Jones, director of Chatham emergency services, said officials are considering whether to also evacuate areas of the county west of I-95. He said a decision on that will be announced Tuesday.
At least some county residents seemed to take the evacuation order seriously, as evidenced by a several-mile backup up on I-16 on the outskirts of the city. But the backup soon cleared and loaded cars pressed west. Lovebugs, a staple of late summer in South Georgia, perished on their windshields, only to have their carcasses washed away by windshield blades swinging against the rain.
At the Lowe’s in Savannah’s neighboring city of Pooler, customers loaded up on plywood and gas tanks.
John Shivas, 66, who lives in the evacuation zone, swaddled a new generator in a blue tarp in the back of his pickup truck. He planned to stay home, unless Dorian’s projected track suddenly shifted inland. He said he stayed home during Hurricane Matthew.
“If you leave, you don’t know when you get back,” Shivas said. “They said last time the people who stayed were stupid, but the people who stayed helped clean the streets so the people who evacuated could get back on Monday. If everybody evacuated, you probably wouldn’t get back until Wednesday or Thursday.”
On Tybee Island, the popular tourist destination that’s seen regular flooding during storms in recent years, Dorian’s approach seemed to harm Labor Day fun. Many restaurants and shops were closed Monday afternoon and residents were thinking about evacuating.
Fred Mackey, 72, stood in the parking lot of the IGA grocery on U.S. 80, the main drag, and said most folks he knows plan to leave Tuesday. Assuming the forecast doesn’t suddenly start looking much better for Tybee, Mackey will probably be among those fleeing for higher ground.
“I don’t believe in standing in front of a train, and I don’t believe in standing in front of a hurricane either,” he said. “There’s plenty of places to run and hide around here.”
In Camden County’s St. Marys, the state’s southernmost coastal city, with a population of 18,000 people, business owners spent a muggy Labor Day preparing their storefronts with sandbags and plywood.
C.B. Yadav, owner of Cumberland Inn and Suites in St. Marys, said about 80% of his employees are gone, most evacuating Monday.
“They don’t want to wait until the last minute,” he said.
Yadav, 42, said his wife and their two children were heading to Atlanta, like they did for the last couple hurricanes, so he can focus on his businesses.
“It’s scary,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Yadav said he has between 20 and 25 people in the hotel, a mix of employees and emergency workers there for the storm, staying for free. The hotel has 107 rooms in all.
Manager Shannon Disanto and her family spent Labor Day loading everything in their store, Market on the Square — half a football field away from the St. Marys River — into a U-Haul.
Disanto, 37, and about seven others planned to drive the box truck three miles inland because they expected their third straight year of hurricane flooding. They usually get two feet of water in the store.
They didn’t pack up everything for Irma, and the flooding ruined all their electrical equipment, including three ice cream machines and a deep freezer.
“We lost everything,” she said.
The store sells ice cream and fudge and souvenirs right where folks would normally be catching the ferry to popular and federally protected Cumberland Island, Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island.
Disanto said Labor Day weekend is usually one of their best weekends for making money, but the storm has ruined that. Disanto expects they’ll lose two weeks of business in all.
“Nobody’s relaxing, eating ice cream,” she said.
When the Facebook posts started flying around Wednesday, business started tanking. “The hysteria set in,” she said.
Just so it wouldn’t melt, she ran a buy-one-get-one-free deal on the ice cream Sunday. They sold 18 tubs.
RELATED: St. Marys residents brace for Dorian
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.