Sustainable Fellwood residents moved to hotel from temporary shelter at high school

Sustainable Fellwood residents still displaced as crews work to clear building of water

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Since late Thursday night, residents of an apartment building in Sustainable Fellwood off West Bay Street in Savannah have not been allowed back in their apartment because of a massive water leak.

Dozens of residents, all 62 years old or older, were staying with family or in a gym on the campus of Woodville Tompkins lower school. All of the residents have been placed in a local hotel Friday evening, the Red Cross announced Friday evening.

According to the management company, the water affected about 40 units on one side of the building, but electricity had to be shut off to the whole building because as the water rushed down from the pipe, between the attic and the top floor roof, it infiltrated the electrical system.

ServePro and Pace Electrical have been here all day working to clean out the standing water and get the electricity back up and running. The property managers said the pipe that burst has been fixed, but they have to wait about 24-hours for the material used to patch the hole to set before the sprinkler system can be tested, making it safe for residents to come back in.

"They are going through the units to try to see how fast we can get things dried out," said Woda Management Group Senior Vice President Jody Carder.

Carder and the team from the Woda Group flew in from Columbus, Ohio on Friday, not only to get a look at the damage done to the building, but to help get the displaced resident's lives back to normal as quickly as possible.

"We had to mobilize pretty quickly. We even had our staff in Columbus make arrangements at a distance for hotel rooms. We have 90 some hotel rooms arranged right now in case the power cannot be turned on in the building, we would have hotels available for all of the residents that need it," said Carder.

The team from the property management group is trying to get in touch with all of the occupants right now to make arrangements. In the meantime, there still is no cause for the burst pipe, and the Fire Marshal says it doesn't appear the damage was caused by an outside object.

Whatever the case, more than a dozen tenants have significant water damage, and if they don't have insurance, could be out on the cost for those things as well.

"It's a loss for them if we can't get it dried out. Now again, if we have the power back on, will have dryers and dehumidifiers in there and try to get that all taken care of," said Carder. "It's a matter of making our residents as comfortable as we can and getting their lives back to normal as fast as possible. And the we can focus...we'll let the professionals focus on getting the damaged units back on line."

While all this has been happening, the Southeast Georgia Chapter of the American Red Cross has been taking care of a good number of the displaced residents inside a gym, waiting for word from the management company.

"Realistically in any situation, there are outside forces that affect what you're doing in a shelter," said Sam Watkins of the American Red Cross. "It could simply be, the water is going down and folks can return to their homes. In this case, it's when will the management company provide alternate housing or whatever they're going to do."

Alderman Van Johnson sent this letter to the WODA Group for its response to the incidents that happened on Thursday evening and into early Friday morning.

Mr. Formey,

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment and frustration in the manner of which the WODA group handled last night's flooding situation and the subsequent handling of the citizens in the Sustainable Fellwood complex.

I spent the good part of the late night and early morning hours at Sustainable Fellwood III with dozens of elderly residents, in their robes, slippers and pajamas, many with canes and walking devices huddled in the lobby. Many were confused and unfortunately, in a quandary about what was happening and where they would be spending the cold night.  Mr. Michael Walton, manager of another Sustainable Fellwood property, with a different management group, came over to assist where he could.

While I clearly understand that extraordinary and unusual matters may have caused the hole in the pipe that caused the flooding the complex, I am upset that although there was no property manager on site and although a young lady from a property in Pooler came and did all she could to assist, there were no keys to the maintenance closets on the complex and no one to provide any direction as to how to secure or evacuate the property  This situation would have been a lot worse had it not been for the combined efforts of the Savannah Fire Department and American Red Cross. Both agencies who also expressed frustration that there was no one from the management company truly "in charge."

I have tried to contact WODA representatives throughout the day and finally communicated with Mr. David Cooper of WODA who was in my opinion, rude, belittling and dismissive of his company's response to these matters.  He indicated to me that it was his desire that we did not have so much "gun violence " in Savannah and that if I wanted to contribute money to assist residents that I was welcome to do so.  This is not the type of corporate attitude that we need to have operating any facility in Savannah, GA, particularly where public dollars are involved.

I have continued to receive calls and messages throughout the day from residents and family members who indicate that to this moment, they are still sheltered in the Tompkins Gym and they are concerned about the end of the week which has arrived. Further, they are concerned about the integrity of the structure and attempts to move them back in before all of the damage is mitigated.

We have had management problems with WODA group in the past and I do not think that it is in the best interests of the City of Savannah, the Housing Authority of Savannah, Sustainable Fellwood, Department of Community Affairs or our citizens for the WODA group to continue to manage this property and I ask that we do what is necessary to terminate this relationship and seek responsible management to take care of our most precious citizens.

The American Red Cross issued a statement Friday afternoon, declaring that residents had been moved from the shelter at Woodville Tompkins High School into a local hotel. The full statement reads:

Volunteers of the American Red Cross of Southeast and Coastal Georgia in conjunction with the owners of the Sustainable Fellwood apartments closed the shelter located at Woodville Tompkins High School. Apartment owners moved the residents to a local hotel until they are able to return home. 

Alderman Johnson released a second statement Friday evening, after the announcement from the Red Cross, stating;

I am pleased that all of the Seniors displaced during the Sustainable Fellwood III evacuation last night are safe with family, friends or are in local hotels.

My sincere thanks to the American Red Cross for taking care of our Seniors, the WODA Group staff, who came to Savannah, for making housing arrangements for our Seniors, and Above and Beyond Limousine Service and Chatham Area Transit for transporting our Seniors to a private room and a warm bed tonight.

It is our hope that they will be able to return to their homes as soon and as safely as possible.

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