Undeterred by statewide fuel shortages and traffic, evacuees from Hurricane Irma continued to make their way home to Chatham County on Wednesday.
Chatham County officials expected residents on the functional needs registry would be brought back on Wednesday, and pets that were evacuated with their owners are also being returned.
Beyond the 2,100 or so who left the county through the evacuation site at the Savannah Civic Center, the Chatham Emergency Management Agency couldn’t immediately put a number to how many had fled the Savannah area in advance of Irma or to how many had since made their way back.
But it was clear by mid-day Wednesday that vehicle traffic had begun to pick up, and many local businesses were reopening their doors.
Many of those returning Wednesday were eager to check on their homes. While the prevailing message from Chatham officials has been that the area largely dodged a bullet when Hurricane Irma rolled through the state on Monday, initial reviews after Irma’s effects had subsided found many ocean, river and marsh-front properties had sustained some level of flooding. Local municipalities had also reported that a small percentage of Chatham County properties had been damaged by wind-toppled trees.
Official damage assessments were continuing midway through the week, but CEMA has encouraged property owners to take photos of any damage — no matter how minor — and contact their insurance companies to discuss possible benefits.
Those with fallen tree damage could seek help from local municipalities if it’s on public property. Downed trees on private property, however, are the responsibility of the owner. On Tybee Island, city officials cautioned property owners to be wary of scammers and hire only reputable contractors.
Those certified to do business on the island are required to have a city-issued contractor’s license, a notice on the city’s website said, and reputable contractors will have worker’s compensation insurance for their employees and subcontractors. Residents and business owners are advised to never pay a contractor in advance.
For property owners dealing with flood damage, CEMA advised that the affected area must be dried out before repairs can begin. It’s unlikely that waterlogged drywall will dry, so the emergency management agency recommended removing damaged portions to prevent mold and mildew. Flood damaged property should be cleaned with a disinfectant. Property owners should wear protective masks and gloves.
Meanwhile, more than 17,100 Georgia Power customers in Chatham County remained without power by about 3 p.m. Wednesday. The utility reported on Twitter that estimated restoration times should be available on the company’s outage map by Thursday.
Georgia Power representatives said the company expects to have restored power to 95 percent of remaining customers by Sunday night or earlier.
“Finding the resources is challenging this time as assistance is required in Texas and Florida,” corporate communications manager Swann Seiler on Tuesday.
Residents are advised to contact their provider with questions about garbage and debris pickup and water quality.
For evacuees who have not yet returned, be aware that the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency has warned that fuel outages are being reported throughout the state.
Along with difficulty resupplying because of the storm, GEMA wrote in a notice on its website this week that South Georgia gas stations continue to face power outages and flooding in their tanks, which prevents them from reopening. GEMA advised evacuees that access to fuel is not a guarantee as they return south.
“In the case of Savannah we were not hit as hard as we were with Matthew,” said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach this week. “We anticipate once the power is up and going that we will not lose a lot of time as far as the community getting back up to normal.”