Savannah area residents started returning home this week, many to houses without electricity and some, especially on Tybee Island, to water-damaged homes.
“If you don’t mind camping out, come back and join us,” said Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach in welcoming residents to return.
At its height the storm knocked out power to 78,000 of Georgia Power’s 149,000 customers in the Savannah and Richmond Hill areas. By late Tuesday morning, outages were down to 54,000, said corporate communications manager Swann Seiler.
About 1,000 utility crew members were dedicated to the Savannah area from Georgia Power and out-of-state utilities, but Irma was historic in the breadth of its impact, knocking out power to close to a million customers statewide and many more in neighboring states.
Irma’s widespread impacts and the fact it came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey that devastated Houston made Sieler unwilling to estimate when all Savannah area customers would see service restored.
“Finding the resources is challenging this time as assistance is required in Texas and Florida,” Seiler said.
An aerial survey indicated a major transmission line down on Tybee.
“Once we get that up we still know there could be other outages there,” Seiler said.
Irma, downgraded to a tropical storm when it arrived in Savannah, brought 4.73 inches of rain to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Monday. The top sustained wind speed was 44 mph, also recorded at the airport.
Fort Pulaski recorded the highest gusts at 70 mph. The tide gauge there recorded its third highest level ever, at 12.24 feet above the usual low tide. Major coastal flooding begins along much of the Georgia coast when the tide level reaches 10 feet at Pulaski, according to the National Weather Service in Charleston.
“In the case of Savannah we were not hit as hard as we were with Matthew,” DeLoach said. “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.”
Damage was worse further south on the Georgia coast, said Congressman Buddy Carter, whose district spans the coast.
“We were very fortunate and we didn’t have quite as much wind damage as we did last time with Hurricane Matthew,” Carter said. “However, we had quite a bit of flood damage particularly down in the southern portion of the dsitrict in Camden County. We had a lot of flood damage in St. Marys.”
Carter said he was headed south “to see what we can do to help them with that,” noting that Congress approved $15 billion in hurricane relief for Irma and Harvey, and there would be more to come.
Carter has previously expressed skepticism about man-made climate change and on Tuesday was loathe to address it in the face of two historically large and powerful hurricanes hitting the U.S. in quick succession.
Echoing EPA Administrator Scott Pruit, Carter said “now is not the time” to discuss climate change.