An ambulance responding to a call passes a swamped vehicle on President Street that tried to cross flood waters to Tybee Island during Hurricane Matthew on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Savannah. Curtis Compton /ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia’s barrier islands closed to public following Hurricane Matthew

Brunswick – Hurricane Matthew has knocked out power to about 46,000 residents in Glynn County and its barrier islands, including Jekyll, Sea and Simons, which remain closed to the public.

At a news conference Saturday afternoon, county authorities said people will be able to return to the islands only after they determine they are safe, though they could not provide a timetable.

They have also shut down the bridge leading to Sea Island, where many of the aging trees lining Sea Island Road did not survive the storm. Glynn Sheriff Neal Jump said the span was being inspected for safety.

County officials added they were not aware of any storm-related fatalities or serious injuries. They are still tabulating the damages, which include numerous downed trees and power lines. Meanwhile, the county school system will be closed Monday and Tuesday.

The last time such an impactful hurricane struck the region was in 1898, said Glynn County Commission Chairman Richard Strickland.

“There is extreme damage, a lot more so on the islands, of course, than on the mainland,” Strickland told reporters. “We have trees down. We have a lot of power lines down. That’s the reason why right now the islands are not accessible to the public. We have to have the time to get everything back up and running. Once that happens, we will return to business as usual.”

County authorities warned earlier this week the hurricane could turn into a 500-year event with 9-foot storm surges carrying 25-foot high waves. The storm was not as powerful as predicted, they said, though they couldn’t immediately quantify its size. The storm also struck off the coast earlier than originally expected, starting at 10 p.m. Friday. The effects lasted until 8 a.m. Saturday morning, said Jay Wiggins, the county’s director of emergency management and homeland security.

“If this had happened on a high tide, it would have been a much worse incident,” he said. “It was strictly luck and timing that helped us with this.”

Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey said his community also suffered downed trees and damage to homes.

“We are very fortunate that we have come through this as we have,” he said.

Tim Buie was trying to get across the bridge to Sea Island and inspect some landscaping for some homeowners when he saw a Glynn sheriff’s deputy blocking access to the span. He regretted seeing the fallen trees on the road leading up to the bridge.

“They exploded,” he said glumly.

His friend Tim Liles identified them as cedars, saying; “They are probably older than me and you together.”

Still, they both agreed the storm damage could have been worse. Liles lost a tool shed in his yard to a fallen tree.

Buie: “This is a pleasant surprise for me. There are a lot of houses that don’t have any damage and that is shocking.”

Federica Road near the airstrip was covered with trees Saturday morning. And the debris lying in the park near the St. Simons Island pier shows evidence of a powerful storm surge, though the surrounding village appears mostly unscathed.

Meanwhile, a convoy of county emergency workers was driving slowly across the island Saturday morning, surveying the damage and searching for people in need of help.

“We did well,” William Cook said as he snapped photos of a huge downed tree near Mallery Park. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Timothy Seavey and his daughter, Emily, drove up to the pier to take a look after hunkering down on the island Friday night. At one point in the darkness he saw a massive flash of blue light, figuring a transformer exploded.

“We saw a big blue flash and it went ‘Boom, boom’ like some alien thing,” he said. “I guess it was a transformer or major power station. And then about 10 minutes later our power went out. We had to chop our way out of the neighborhood.”

Earlier in the morning, Bonnie and Richard Nutt drove up to the pier along with their pup, Mary Jane. As they surveyed the remains of the storm, Bonnie Nutt glanced at some photos on her phone of fallen trees in her neighborhood.

“We watched this one fall,” she said. “And this one fell right before it. It was awful. We have ridden around the island. It is really bad.”

Still, her husband, Richard, was able to sleep through it all Friday night and even snored, she said.

“I slept like a baby all night long,” he said.

She laughed: “He did… I didn’t sleep much because it was just too hot.”

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