A mandatory evacuation of Tybee Island began this morning. A few cars seemed to be leaving with families, pets, bikes and surfboards loaded up. But traffic was sparse on the two-lane road that leads on and off the island.
On any other sunny Friday in September when schools and businesses were closed, Tybee beach would be teeming with people enjoying the sand and surf. Jim Ervin and a handful of others braved a strong undertow to ride some unusually strong waves. Otherwise, the beach was nearly deserted and the island was quiet except for the cyclical buzzing of cicadas.
Jim Kluttz and his wife Dottie were boarding up the doors and windows of their home on the north end of the island. When they evacuated for Hurricane Matthew he said they didn’t take the precaution.
“We had water just about in every room - not standing water or anything like that. I’m talking about walls,” Kluttz said. “And because we could fully use the house, the contractors – we were real low on the totem pole as far as getting anything done and we didn’t have it done until May of this year, just about three months ago. We don’t want to do that again. That’s why we’re putting up all this stuff. This time we’re going to use an ounce of prevention and say it is our offering to the storm goddess to leave us alone.”
They plan to evacuate but the changing storm forecast has them questioning whether heading north to the Atlanta area will make them any safer than staying home. Their home has withstood three hurricanes in the four decades that they’ve owned it. It stands in a line of distinctive houses known as Officers' Row.
“These were built by the Army in the late 1890s and early 1900s,” Kluttz said. “In the 1890s three major hurricanes hit this area. They built this berm. You can see we’re up. We have a full basement in this house, which is probably the safest place you can be on this island because it’s built down in the berm. We are above flood stage. They had the experience of three hurricanes when they built all these things they knew what they were doing - what could happen here.”
What could happen there and in other parts of Chatham County and Coastal Georgia is flooding from storm surge. At a press conference this afternoon, Chatham EMA director, Dennis Jones, urged residents to heed the mandatory evacuation order even though the current forecast has been downgraded to predict tropical storm force winds when Irma reaches the area.
“We do encourage you not to stay here though,” Jones said. “Here is where the significant threat is because of storm surge and also the winds.”
The changing forecast has many in this area wondering whether to stay or go. Amy Wine and Lori Bloess were at the one spot that was busy today: the only grocery store on Tybee. Their families evacuated together during Hurricane Matthew. They spent a total of six days in Milledgeville, Georgia, and in Huntsville, Alabama.
The friends and neighbors say they are still uncertain about whether they’ll leave for Irma.
“We’re afraid of the road right now,” Wine explained. “We’ve heard there’s a lot of accidents, people are running out of gas, and there’s considerable traffic and it’s taking hours to get to places that, you know, taking double the amount of time or triple in some cases.”
“We’re concerned about the storm surge,” Bloess added. “That’s our main concern right now.”
“We’re watching the cone of uncertainty,” said Wine. “I think if it shifts this way tonight, we’ll leave tomorrow.”
“We’re stocking up in the meantime,” Bloess said.
“We’re not sure what to prepare for,” Wine continued. “If we’re preparing for staying with the power outage. If it keeps shifting to the west we think that we’ll be okay in terms of power, but it’s still uncertain.”
A mandatory evacuation of Chatham County begins Saturday morning. The looming deadline has many grappling with the question of whether to stay or go.