36 hours on Tybee Island: Before, during, and after the storm - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

36 hours on Tybee Island: Before, during, and after the storm

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

In a WTOC exclusive, we're walking you through the 36 hours our crews spent on Tybee Island during Hurricane Irma - their experiences before, during, and after the storm. 

We went there knowing we could be stuck for days, and that Highway 80 would flood and the road would be shut down. We also knew that it was a guarantee that we would lose power, but the scariest part was the unknown...what type of damage there would be...how long we would be without power...and how long we could be stuck on the island. We had to pack and prepare for the unknown...non-perishable food, water, lots of rain gear and a generator to keep our batteries and cameras charged so that we could continue to be a part of the live coverage. 

The island was a ghost town Sunday afternoon when we finally made it. Many homes were already boarded up and downtown was empty. From the beach, it was evident that the storm was quickly approaching. That was just the beginning. Conditions were worsening by the minute. 

One time when I went to get out of the car, I thought it was locked. It actually wasn't, that's just how much pressure was being pushed against the car. 

The winds were becoming so fierce we had to tie a rope around a tree just so I wouldn't lose my balance. As we moved around the island, we quickly realized there was a big difference just being a block or two further inland. Just two hours later, the closest we could get to the beach was the parking lot near the pier because conditions were just too dangerous. I actually had to brace myself against the storm. 

We could hear the winds howling all night, and by Monday morning, more than 1,700 people on the island were without power and we weren't venturing out past the front porch of the home where we were staying. We started to see some of the damage, like shingles strung about in yards. We finally headed out to the beach which was across the street from where we were staying. The water was just a couple of feet to the walkway. 

The water came in fast and furiously on Highway 80, nearly trapping us within seconds of arriving at the Lazaretto Creek Bridge. Our ride even had to leave because the police said, 'You gotta go. We have to go but wanted to let you know this is how high the tide is.' 

We never even made it to Butler Avenue that day because many of the roads were underwater, but we did talk to residents who had just witnessed the water take over their neighborhoods. 

"Within maybe 15 minutes, this road was covered and it took about 30 minutes to cover all of this," said Cherish Amerson, Tybee resident. 

We spoke to a lady who said she's never seen flooding like this, not even during Hurricane Matthew. 

Those whose homes flooded during Hurricane Matthew flooded again. 

"The ones on the left-hand side of Miller and Lewis Avenue and from about 10th Street down to 18th Street, if they were on the ground, they totally flooded out all over again," said Ronald Tatum, Tybee resident. 

And all over again it was for Cliff Kevill. 

"After Matthew, we had about three feet of water, but this time we figured the surge might be worse and sure enough, I've got four feet where I am," the Tybee resident said. 

It was also deja vu for residents on Lewis Avenue. By Tuesday, the water had come and gone. That morning, we went on an exclusive ride along with Mayor Jason Buelterman, who was able to see the flooding from the sky immediately after the surge. 

"What I saw was that things were much worse than they were with Matthew," the mayor said. 

Dry roads meant we could finally get down to see the damage near the pier for the first time. You could see how the balcony was completely wiped out from the top unit. Down the street, the entire roof of a building had been ripped off, flooding it from top to bottom. By Tuesday afternoon, Highway 80 was back open and Georgia Power had already restored some power. 

As our coverage on Tybee came to an end, it was evident that this was just the beginning. For many, it felt like the button had just been reset. Some were finally starting to see the light just 11 months after Matthew, and while it may be a setback, the strength and determination from the island community is stronger and more powerful than any hurricane. 

With Matthew, we had a lot of debris removal and wind damage. This time, it's mainly the flooding, so a different type of recovery process starts now. 

The mayor has already been in contact with officials at the White House, working with the federal government about getting funding for those whose houses were damaged. 

Other than the flooding, there was other physical damage around the island, but it was pretty concentrated to properties close to the beach. We showed you those buildings. There was a portion of the boardwalk that washed away in that same area. Over on the north end of the island, there was a little roof damage to some of the homes and properties. 

There was a period that of time that first responders weren't responding to calls. During the height of the storm, they stopped responding to calls early Monday morning. The mayor says the north end of the island recorded 64 mile-per-hour winds at one point. We certainly saw law enforcement Sunday night and Monday afternoon - as soon as it was safe to be out. 

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