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Many staying put on Tybee Island as Hurricane Dorian approaches

September 3, 2019 Tybee Island -  Many people were remaining on Tybee Island Tuesday despite pleas to evacuate. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
September 3, 2019 Tybee Island - Many people were remaining on Tybee Island Tuesday despite pleas to evacuate. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Mayor urges residents, visitors to comply with evacuation order

Surfers rode the big fat waves. Couples spread their beach towels out in the sand. Kids laughed and played in the ocean’s foamy edge. None of them were leaving Tybee Island any time soon Tuesday, even as Hurricane Dorian buzz-sawed closer.

Jenny Rountree is among those staying on the island despite the storm. She began setting up before noon at Tybee Time, where she serves daiquiri samples in little red and blue toy cars she rolls down the bar. Dorian’s indecisiveness — it keeps stalling — stresses her out.

“This thing has driven everyone crazy here because it is taking so long,” she said. “This is so agonizing — this waiting.”

Across town, customers filed into Huc-A-Poo’s Bites and Booze, a bustling, dog-friendly pizzeria plastered with autographed dollar bills and vintage record album covers. Eric Thomas, who owns the restaurant with his wife, said he would remain during the storm.

“If the food is going to spoil, we will just give it to whoever comes in, whoever stays,” he said. “They have to buy their own beer, though.”

September 3, 2019 Tybee Island - Eric Thomas, owner of Huc-A-Poos Bites and Booze restaurant on Tybee Island, scrambles during a busy lunch rush Tuesday. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
September 3, 2019 Tybee Island - Eric Thomas, owner of Huc-A-Poos Bites and Booze restaurant on Tybee Island, scrambles during a busy lunch rush Tuesday. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

John Potter, a longtime Tybee resident known for drinking 77 16-ounce beers in one sitting at a bar here 20 years ago, said he would stick around to help Thomas. The former curator of the Tybee Island Museum, Potter lives here out of a 1983 Ford Eldorado motor home with an 8-track cartridge player. He has a generator and extra fuel he could use to help Thomas.

“They are my friends and if they are going to die,” he joked, “I will die alongside them.”

September 3, 2019 Tybee Island - John Potter, left, a longtime Tybee Island resident, plans to remain on the island during the storm to help his friends, who own the Huc-a-Poo’s Bites and Booze restaurant. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
September 3, 2019 Tybee Island - John Potter, left, a longtime Tybee Island resident, plans to remain on the island during the storm to help his friends, who own the Huc-a-Poo’s Bites and Booze restaurant. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Meanwhile, Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman is urging people to evacuate.

“The governor’s evacuation order is still in place until it is not, so heed by the order of the governor,” the mayor said during an interview at his home. “At the arrival of tropical storm-force winds our protocol is we don’t respond to 911 calls because we don’t want to put our officers and emergency people at risk.”

The popular barrier island near Savannah is expected to get hit with four- to seven-foot storm surges Wednesday, the mayor said. He estimated most of the tourists have left and that half of the island’s roughly 3,000 residents have evacuated.

“We have already pulled our lifeguards from the beach because we don’t want to give people a false sense of security that they can be at the beach and there are lifeguards there to protect them,” Buelterman said.

The small coastal city, Buelterman added, has contacted the single nursing home located on the island to make sure it has an evacuation plan and an emergency power generator. Tybee also has spent $26,000 to stage backup sewage pumps around the island.

Tybee trucked in about $800,000 of sand about three months ago and added it to the dunes on the south side of the island. It will start a $15 million project in November to replace sand lost on the beaches from previous hurricanes.

Bennie and Tammy Watkins of Calhoun were among some visitors who remained on Tybee Island Tuesday, feeding bread to the seagulls and snapping photos. The island vacation was a surprise birthday gift for her. They got here Sunday morning and are planning to leave ahead of the storm Wednesday. JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com
Bennie and Tammy Watkins of Calhoun were among some visitors who remained on Tybee Island Tuesday, feeding bread to the seagulls and snapping photos. The island vacation was a surprise birthday gift for her. They got here Sunday morning and are planning to leave ahead of the storm Wednesday. JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com

Some tourists wandered along the windy beach near the public pier early Tuesday morning. Bennie and Tammy Watkins of Calhoun did so, feeding bread to the seagulls and snapping photos. The island vacation was a surprise birthday gift for her. They got here Sunday morning and are planning to leave ahead of the storm Wednesday.

“They kept opening the door to see if we had left yet,” Tammy Watkins said of staff at the hotel where they are staying on Tybee. “I love it. We have the whole beach — it seems like — to ourselves. We are trying to stay as long as we can.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with additional reporting, including interviews with residents not planning to evacuate.