Tybee Island After Irma: A Conversation With The Mayor

Sep 13, 2017

On Monday, September 11, Tybee Island experienced storm surge flooding from Hurricane Irma. This excess water along with an astronomical high tide flooded parts of the island. We spoke with Mayor Jason Buelterman just after the only bridge connecting Tybee to the mainland opened the following afternoon.

GPB: Describe what you’re seeing on the island.

Buelterman: Flooding was significantly worse than it was for Hurricane Matthew. I’m actually standing on Lewis Avenue right now. This was kind of ground zero for Matthew and unfortunately it looks like the same for this one. There are other low-lying parts of the island, especially on the back side of the island that were hit. There were areas that flooded during Matthew that received worse flooding and there’s areas of the island that did not flood in Matthew and received flooding from this. It’s much more of a water than a wind situation. We had some damage to roofs at the beach – destruction right on the beach. It’s all relative to what it was with Matthew and the wind damage with Matthew was worse.

Describe what's happening on Tybee today (Tuesday, Sept. 12)?

The DOT opened the bridges. They had to inspect them before they could open them. They opened the bridges about five minutes ago actually. So what I expect today is people are going to be headed out here. A lot of the people who are out here are trying to get into town so they can get access to food and that kind of thing because we have been without power. So we’re hoping that power will get cut back on. They’ll restore power out here in the next few hours, but I’m not sure of that. I’ve been given an estimate of today. I know those guys are working hard to get it up and running.

Today and the rest of the evening I just expect people to come back on the island. We have water and sewer back-up systems that are fully functional, even though we don’t have power, so that’s good. No boil water advisory. Our 911 system is up and running – it’s on a back-up generator. Our police and fire are working. They’re out here in force. So we’re just trying to do the best we can to get back to any type of semblance of normalness out here.

What’s the biggest challenge as Tybee recovers from Irma?

The city has a lot of work to do relative to getting our beach and our dune system back to what it was before the storm, so we’re working on that now. I think more than anything it’s going to be individual homeowners who are going to struggle. You know, you’ve got people who were hit last year who are just now recovering from Matthew, who are now going to be faced with having to do it all over again, just a year later. And then you’ve got people who didn’t get hit at all last time who are facing what these folks faced last year. And they’re going to learn how difficult it is to get their insurance claims paid, make sure the adjuster does his or her job correctly, which is a problem. So it’s going to be a long haul.

There are a lot of unincorporated county residents who were hit just as bad as we were in many respects. Some people think we dodged a bullet, which we did, but the flooding from Jacksonville up to Charleston is pretty bad.

The mayor credited the emergency personnel from throughout the county for getting the island reopened the day after the storm.

The fact that everything’s up and running so quickly (on Tybee Island) after what appears to be the worst flooding we’ve had in at least 70 years, maybe as far back as 1898, that one day afterwards those men and women got this city up and going so quickly is to be commended. They did a great job.