Golden Isles residents return to see what Irma left

By Allyson Henning - Reporter , Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist

JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. - Glynn County residents who evacuated from five or more days ago began making their way home at 8 a.m. Thursday morning when Georgia State Troopers opened the exits from Interstate 95. Those who could show identification they lived on Jekyll or St. Simons Island joined a line of vehicles waiting to get across the bridges.

The streets were quiet -- many with covered in debris. A drive through a Jekyll Island neighborhood revealed damaged, even crushed homes.

Residents who had ridden out the storm felt sorry for those who would be getting their first look at the aftermath.

"I just know they're going to be brokenhearted when they come and see what damage has been done," Jekyll resident Candace Murphy said.

Residents of the tight-knit community are happy no one was hurt during the storm, but shocked to see what Irma left behind. Trees were down on both side of the streets, some crashing right through homes.

Murphy said her neighbor's house had a guardian angel.

"The tree fell, but ... I just feel like God put his hand in there and said, 'Don't crush this house,'" Murphy said. "It was really sort of a sweet thing to see."

The majority of people News4Jax spoke with didn’t suffer much structural damage. For that and the fact that no one was injured, they are thankful.

After Irma

Although Hurricane Irma passed west of coastal Georgia Monday as a Category 1 hurricane, the area was still impacted by tropical storm force winds of over 70 mph, historic storm surge, unprecedented flooding and tornadoes. The damage resulted in a loss of over 90 percent of power, a loss of 75 percent of water and sewer services, flooded major parts of the community and left many roads impassable.

As of Thursday morning, 49 percent of the Glynn County was still without power.

"Please be advised that critical infrastructure is still fragile and there are limitations to JWSC, Georgia Power, and other utilities when residents return," the county said in a statement. "Due to the limitations of sanitary sewer, traffic control and power, there are hazards to public health that remain. Glynn County will be rebuilding from this disaster for months to come."

Common sites for those who remained are broken power poles, tangled traffic lights and trees snapped in half. People who sheltered in place are making do.

"It's just cold baths, cold showers and being careful with the water -- drinking bottled water," one woman told News4Jax.

In Camden County, limited re-entry began Wednesday. Downtown St. Marys’ power grid will be brought online between Wednesday and Saturday due to safety hazards including fallen and falling power lines, debris, trees and limbs. Water services are available, but the sewer system is under great stress and officials encourage use of the system must be minimized.

Camden County remains under an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew until further notice.

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and his team boarded a helicopter Wednesday to do an aerial survey of damage in Glynn and Camden counties.

"We love to come down to the Golden Isles, but we don't like to come under these circumstances" Hudgens said. "We will make a determination where we will set up a claims village. That's where we will ask major insurance companies to come to one location where people can come in and file their claims."

As state officials help the people of Glynn and Camden counties to get back on their feet, some are simply counting their blessings.

"I'm thankful for nobody being hurt," one resident said. "I lived here all my life and stayed through many storms, but this one seems worse than what we usually have."

Father Tommy Townsend's Holy Nativity Episcopal Church was badly damaged and has trees scattered throughout the property. But he is grateful a statue of Christus Rex, a symbol of Jesus resurrected with arms lifted, remains standing. 

He see is as a symbol to a community about to begin recovery efforts of hope for all.

Glynn County shelter open

The American Red Cross has set up a shelter available to residents at Selden Park located at 100 Genoa Martin Drive, Brunswick, GA 31520.  The shelter is open and is available to anyone who needs lodging. The Salvation Army will be feeding those housed at the shelter.

If you are planning to go to the shelter, you should bring any prescription medications, extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies, important documents and other comfort items. You should also include any special items for children such as diapers, formula and toys, and items needed by family members with unique needs.

Insurance Department to host Claims Village in Brunswick

The Georgia Department of Insurance will host a Catastrophe Claims Village in Brunswick, Ga., on Monday, Sept. 18, and Tuesday, Sept. 19, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The purpose of the event will be to assist area residents with their insurance questions and claims resulting from Hurricane Irma.

“Thousands of residents have suffered tremendous losses, and we are here to help them on the road to recovery,” Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said. I encourage all residents who have insurance questions or need help filing a claim to visit our Claims Village.”

The Catastrophe Claims Village will operate in the parking lot of the Home Depot, located at 200 Altama Connector. Hudgens’ Consumer Services staff and representatives from many of the major insurance companies are scheduled to be in attendance.

Residents who cannot attend the Claims Village can call the Insurance Department’s Consumer Services Hotline at 1-800-656-2298, if they need help filing a claim, or if they are experiencing difficulty reaching their insurance company. Phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.       

School status

Power has not yet been restored to some Glynn County schools and officials are still conducting damage assessments of all school facilities and infrastructure. After a Thursday morning meeting, officials learned power may not be restored to some schools until Sunday.

"While we are still hoping to open on Monday, Sept. 18, it is still too early to know whether we'll be able to provide food service, transportation and other essential services necessary to open schools," Superintendent Virgil Cole said. "Many of our teachers and staff have not been able to get back yet. While opening school is important, we have to be sure that it can be done safely before we can make that call. We'll continue to assess and make that determination as soon as possible."

Camden County schools announced it planning to reopen Monday, but that is tentative.

"Should we not meet the criteria for safety conditions, such as adequate water, sewer, fire suppression, and public safety resources, this date is subject to change," Camden County said in a statement.

Employees of the school system and county government are asked to return to work on a voluntary basis.

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