Many take refuge from Irma in Augusta

One of thousands taking refuge in Augusta during Hurricane Irma, Barbara Kemp said she drove up Interstate 16 on Saturday from Savannah to Atlanta, where she was referred to Augusta as a shelter site.

 

“We left at 9:30 a.m.; we got here about 7:30 p.m.,” the retired health care worker said. “All day, yes it was.”

Arriving at Augusta Mall, Kemp said mall security referred her to the Warren Road Community Center shelter, where she’s been ever since. After not evacuating during last October’s Hurricane Matthew, Kemp said she wasn’t going to stick around for Irma.

“Matthew really tore up, yes,” she said. “Nothing will never be the same after a hurricane, tornado or twister.”

William and Minetra Goodner left their retirement community in Melbourne, Fla., on Friday thinking they could turn around after a few hours, Minetra Goodner said.

“I didn’t think it was going to be weeks or days,” she said. “I thought it would go by and we could turn around and go back.”

A neighbor with a generator stayed behind and said their home is intact, despite tornadoes that hit nearby, but the power remains out, she said.

“We’ve got all that food in the refrigerator,” she said.

The hurricane brought a Key Biscayne, Fla., couple to Augusta for an impromptu reunion with their daughter. Liz and Alex Lipzer left Key Biscayne early Saturday and experienced very little traffic on Interstate 95, probably because most people had already evacuated, Liz Lipzer said.

Their island village is keeping the couple updated, but no one can return until they get word.

“Until they check they’re safe, nobody is allowed to come in,” she said.

Liz Lipzer said the couple moved to the waterfront in 2000 and experienced a storm surge during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but “never like this,” she said.

Despite occasionally having to evacuate, Lipzer said she’ll stay near the ocean.

“It’s nice living on the water,” she said. “You pack and you leave. Safety is first and you figure it out.”

Approximately 2,500 evacuees were being housed at Augusta shelters as of Monday morning, said Jody Smitherman, an attorney for the city government.

The Richmond County Emergency Management Agency has an agreement with Chatham County and the Richmond County Board of Education to shelter several thousand residents from Chatham County, which was under a mandatory evacuation order Saturday. The city has several other shelters open for self evacuees, such as Warren Road, but they all are currently full, Smitherman said.

“We will evaluate the need to open additional shelters as the weather unfolds or if called upon by the state to provide refuge to other Georgia residents affected by Hurricane Irma,” Smitherman said.

Irma had been downgraded to a tropical storm by Monday.

Red Cross worker Rollin Griesbrecht is shelter manager at Warren Road, which hit capacity Saturday and currently shelters between 100 and 130 evacuees, he said. Griesbrecht said operations were running smoothly at the shelter.

“The Red Cross organization is great,” he said. “The Salvation Army has been feeding everyone; meals arrive on time. It’s been a very good experience.”

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

Local effects

Tropical Storm Irma had an impact locally by early Monday.

Georgia Power reported 429 customers without power off Conklin Avenue near downtown Augusta and 28 on West Terrace Court as of 11 a.m. Monday. The company had more than 300,000 customers statewide without power as of 11 a.m., with the majority of them in counties much further south of Augusta. It said that 79,000 have had power restored.

SCE&G had more than 828 customers without power in Aiken and smaller outages scattered throughout the area Monday morning. Aiken Electric Cooperative had 498 customers without power in southwest Aiken County and smaller scattered outages across the area. Jefferson Electric Cooperative had 1,451 customers without power in a swath of counties from Columbia County down to Emanuel County.

Augusta Regional Airport cancelled at least six flights Monday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said over the weekend that the dams at Lake Thurmond and Lake Hartwell are capable of retaining the expected rainfall, which could raise the drought-stricken level of Lake Thurmond about 6 feet, about half of the flood storage capacity for the dams. The corps will halt discharges from the dam if the flow in the river is predicted to rise above its capacity of 30,000 cubic feet per second.

– Tom Corwin, staff writer

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