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Five years later, lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 9:57 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It was a night all of us will never forget. Five years ago, mother nature proved that the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry were not immune to hurricanes.

Hurricane Matthew left its mark on our lives and the landscape of our communities.

“Catastrophic once we got in the house. This room we’re in now was completely open, no ceiling, no roof,” Dori Williams said.

Dori and Weyman Williams evacuated to Guyton the morning of Oct. 7 for Hurricane Matthew. They had always heeded evacuation warnings, but almost didn’t for a pretty good reason.

“I’d had back surgery, minor back surgery and I did not want to evacuate, I was like fighting, just not wanting to leave,” Dori said.

“I at least got her away from the coast. Even where we went to they had trees down there, too,” Weyman said.

Leaving most likely saved their lives. It is something the Williams don’t take lightly nor does Chatham Emergency Management Director Dennis Jones.

“We take hours and hours looking at this storm, analyzing the data, talking to meteorologists, and making sure we are making that decision at the most timely manner. We realize it has a significant impact to the evacuees as well as government operations,” Jones said.

Most agreed evacuation overall went well when all of I-16 became westbound. It was returning home and recovery that many including the Williams didn’t anticipate would be such a challenge.

“Because of the wiring and the plumbing, once you start with that, you have to replace everything,” Dori said. “It was a while before it got really tarped. It would rain, even with the tarp on, the rain would just pour in here onto the floors, I thought there was no way to even save the house.”

“The flooding, and the trees down, and the power lines down, and just the amount of damage that happened around our community; it’s a sobering feeling and it really hits you in the heart,” Jones said.

At one point there was an estimated 408,000 cubic yards of debris. The city sanitation equated that to a football field three or four miles tall. Removal lasted well into 2017.

More than 281,000 of us didn’t have power, most for days following the storm. One reason to evacuate; however, shelters during and after evacuation became a concern.

“We opened up a shelter post event and people had to shelter in that facility for a period of time, I think for three weeks. And just being able to go there and talk with them and get some feedback from them, it caused me to really step back and think about are we doing the right things at the right time and that lead to some changes,” Jones said.

Those changes just took affect this year. General population will no longer bus to Augusta. CEMA is now with working with the State of Georgia and the American Red Cross to open shelters a little closer.

“There’s a lot more resources available from the state and the Red Cross in order to support that effort,” Jones said.

The Williams stayed in a temporary apartment provided by insurance, which became another storm to weather.

“We were out of the house for thirteen months before we were able to move back into the house,” Dori said.

They even evacuated from the temporary place for Irma.

“I still have a little bit of trauma from it. I’ll feel like I’m over it and I’m not affected by it, and then I’ll watch y’all on tv and see one coming, and think, ‘Oh no, not again. It can’t happen again.’”

But they’ll never wonder what if they didn’t evacuate.

“We always leave town as a safety precaution, because things can be replaced, which they can, but people can’t.”

The county is still working on one recovery project from Matthew - McQueen’s Trail along Highway 80 to Tybee.

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