City Talk: Local Irma response hampered by state response

I’m writing this column on Tuesday morning. The sky is blue, and the city is springing back to life. It’s been quite a week.

 

We will have a lot of time to assess the local response to Irma, but the Chatham Emergency Management Agency and other local bureaucracies seem to have communicated more effectively than they did during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

However, the local response was hamstrung by the state response.

Gov. Nathan Deal and state leaders were smart to set the machinery for a large-scale evacuation in motion as early as last Thursday, but Irma’s track had shifted substantially by Friday morning and then even more by Saturday, when the evacuation formally went into effect.

Better safe than sorry, though, right? State officials erred on the side of caution, right?

There are several problems with that line of reasoning.

At a Friday press conference, state leaders were still urging evacuees to flee west, and one official even urged coastal evacuees to consider camping at Georgia state parks, even though the forecast at that precise moment called for the possibility of tropical storm conditions across most of the state.

Well, the storm still could have changed track, right?

Of course Irma’s path could change, and it did change. Hurricane forecasting is a dynamic process, but the predictions typically get more accurate as storms get closer.

The real question last Thursday was whether the storm would go along the east or west side of the Florida peninsula. The eastern path could have been catastrophic for us, but our odds were improving dramatically by Friday.

By Saturday morning, it was clear that Irma wasn’t going to hit Savannah as a major hurricane.

Many Savannahians made the rational decision to leave town early, but on Saturday many of us made the rational decision to shelter in place, even as officials were still mandating that we leave. Fortunately, state officials finally revised that order on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 area residents boarded buses on Saturday and Sunday to Augusta, where thousands of customers had lost power by early Monday afternoon.

As a consequence of all these machinations, government resources weren’t being used as efficiently as they could have been. I know many readers will think I’m being overly critical, but many citizens were making these same criticisms in real time over the last few days.

As we hash things out and deal with all the fallout from Irma, keep in mind that many low-wage households took a hard hit from the storm. If you have the means, you might want to think about patronizing your favorite establishments as soon as they reopen.

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City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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