As Hurricane Dorian began weakening on Tuesday afternoon from the Category 5 storm that devastated Grand Bahama Island to a Category 2 storm, some residents of coastal Georgia piled into cars and buses to leave the area before the storm arrived.
But others, buoyed by the storm’s downgrade, remained on the water, taking full advantage of the bright skies and beaches and vowing to wait out the storm at home.
Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday evening urged residents who have refused to heed evacuation orders for the six counties that make up Georgia’s coast to leave for safer ground now, warning that latest forecast models show Hurricane Dorian skating treacherously close to the state’s coastline.
“We need people to evacuate. I know it’s been pretty down there today. I know the track is showing it not hitting Georgia … but this is not a storm to mess with,” Kemp said, adding: “If you haven’t moved yet, move tonight or first thing in the morning.”
Officials warned that those who stay put run the risk of losing power, water, and sanitation services. Several areas, including Brunswick in Glynn County, issued curfews and closed bridges in advance of the approaching storm and to encourage residents to leave town.
Forecasters predicted Dorian to be off the coast of Georgia by Wednesday night. Dangerous storm surge and high winds are expected along parts of the Florida, Georgia and Carolina coasts.
Even with the Georgia coast under a tropical storm warning as of late Tuesday, many areas were quiet and calm as remaining residents prepared to leave.
In Savannah, hundreds of residents boarded buses Tuesday morning chartered by the local government to move them farther inland. Janette Odum, hunched over resting on a walker, accepted her fate because climbing on the bus and getting out of town was the best option she had. “I like to be obedient and listen,” she said. “I leave every year.”
But some residents from the Chatham County area were less resigned.
“We don’t leave because we wanna leave. We leave because we have to. It’s very frustrating,” said Veronica Washington. “But it’s an act of God. We don’t have no control over it.”
Nearby at Tybee Island, where 4-to-7-foot storm surges were expected Wednesday, Mayor Jason Buelterman estimated most of the tourists had left and that half of the island’s roughly 3,000 residents had evacuated. But there were many others who stayed behind.
Surfers rode the 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. “This thing has driven everyone crazy here because it is taking so long,” said Jenny Rountree at Tybee Time sports bar. “This is so agonizing — this waiting.”
Some nearby business owners also opted to stay in town. Buelterman said they would be doing so at their own peril. “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,” Buelterman said.
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 and will start a $15 million project in November to replace sand lost on the beaches from previous hurricanes. Tybee has also spent $26,000 to stage backup sewage pumps around the island.
Evacuation efforts from the coast were aided on Tuesday morning when the Georgia Department of Transportation instituted contraflow on I-16 shifting all four lanes of traffic from Savannah through U.S. 441 in Dublin to the westbound direction.
Traffic counts on I-16 were double to triple the usual rates with traffic flowing at the speed limit midday. Transportation officials urged residents to take advantage of over 20 routes designated for evacuations. “If everyone waits until the last minute, it will slow the pace of evacuation and increase safety concerns,” said Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell R. McMurry in a statement.
With preparations underway across the coast, Brunswick residents kept moving inland early Tuesday as about 400 people who couldn’t evacuate due to cost or disability caught Glynn County school buses to a Red Cross shelter in Columbus. “I’m just grateful and thankful to be able to evacuate,” said Eddie Wright, who rode the bus with his 7-year-old dog Vino. He doesn’t think Dorian is going to be that bad, but it isn’t worth finding out.
Police officers in Camden County were at the ready to shut down piers, roads and bridges, but for now, it almost seemed like a regular weekend day on St. Simons Island.
Ramey Shirah, 43, was walking around the pier area with her three children on Tuesday. The family has lived on the island 10 years and she said they’ll stay through Dorian.
Every hurricane, Shirah snaps a picture of her children with their hands on both sides of their open mouths, looking like the movie poster to “Home Alone” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
The backdrop for the Hurricane Dorian picture was the Sandcastle Café & Grill, which had been boarded up, but not for long. A small message written on the wood read:
Joshua Sharpe reported from Savannah, Jeremy Redmon from Tybee Island, Ben Brasch from Brunswick and Nedra Rhone from Atlanta. Staff writer Greg Bluestein also contributed to this story.
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