Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Wednesday, September 5, 1979, edition of The Atlanta Constitution.
Hurricane Dorian blew past Georgia quickly, brushing the state’s outer coastal areas but that wasn’t the case 40 years ago when Hurricane David powered into South Carolina, hammering Savannah along the way after killing over 1,000 people in the Caribbean.
“The Georgia coast was spared a direct hit, and instead was lashed by weaker, tropical-storm-force winds farther from the storm’s center,” a team of AJC writers assigned to cover the hurricane reported. Dennis Jones, Chatham County’s emergency management director, told reporters his office received no reports of injuries or fatalities due to Dorian and damage to the community was minor.
LEARN MORE>> How you can help Hurricane Dorian victims
But Hurricane David “lashed [Savannah] for nearly five hours … before heading north across the South Carolina border toward Columbia,” reporters Chester Goolrick and Jim Merriner wrote in the September 5, 1979, edition of the Constitution.
“The storm tore down tree limbs, caused an undetermined number of minor injuries and left residents without power,” the story continued, adding that while “there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injury inflicted by the storm two swimmers were reported missing in the surf off St. Simons Island.” The pair proved David’s only fatalities in Georgia.
Over 3,500 people holed up in makeshift shelters in local schools and churches as David made its way along the Georgia and South Carolina barrier islands. “About half of the 5,000 residents of the offshore islands fled to the mainland before the storm hit,” the Constitution reported.
“As the leading edge of the storm blew into Savannah about 5 p.m.,” Goolrick and Merriner reported, “winds at Travis Field, the airport west of the city, were reported at a maximum of 65 mph, nine miles below hurricane strength.”
MORE DEJA NEWS>> Check out what we’ve covered before (and again)
David’s rough winds left many in the area without power for up to two weeks. Coastal areas flooded when a reported 5.13 inches of rain fell in Savannah over a 24-hour period.
Ed Fogerty, head of the Savannah area civil defense office at the time, said the storm parked itself over the city, taking on an ominous countenance.
“It just sat there — as if it was looking at us,” he said.
In the U.S., David claimed 15 lives and resulted in $320 million worth of damage. Early estimates state Dorian caused $7 billion in damage to the Bahamas. The islands’ death toll currently stands around 50, but is expected to rise.
With hurricane season now at its midpoint, residents along or near the Atlantic coastline know they face the prospect of future, and perhaps even stronger, storms. That’s due in part to the absence of an El Niño system, which “typically suppresses Atlantic hurricane activity,” Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
“The number of predicted storms for this current hurricane season is between 10 and 17 named storms with winds of 39 mph or greater,” the AJC reported Sept. 5.
FLASHBACK PHOTOS>> The 1940 Savannah hurricane
State officials monitored the storm’s progress toward Georgia over the Labor Day weekend.
“[Gov. Brian Kemp] ordered evacuations for residents east of I-95 in six coastal counties, then traveled to Brunswick and Savannah to urge them to leave,” the AJC’s Greg Bluestein wrote in a Sept. 3 report.
In that regard, not much has changed since 1979 when Bill Clack, then the state’s deputy civil defense director, told Constitution reporter Sharon Bailey that his office had been tracking Hurricane David for three days before the storm hit Georgia.
“We can sleep when the emergency’s over,” Clack said.
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