KINGSLAND, Ga. -- Southeast Georgia was spared Wednesday from the catastrophic damage initially predicted from one of the most powerful hurricanes to threaten the state.
On Tuesday, elected officials in Camden County were told to expect sustained winds of 125 mph as the eye of Hurricane Floyd passed within 20 miles of the coast.
Instead, Floyd veered northeast, causing minimal damage throughout the area.
"I did not expect half the houses in the county to be here," said Bob Becker, Camden County Commission chairman. "If it had come in through the path originally predicted, half this county would have been under water."
Across coastal Georgia, officials praised residents for heeding the early evacuation orders and residents expressed thanks that their homes and businesses escaped the storm unscathed.
The damage was so light that local leaders allowed residents to return home late Wednesday afternoon, a decision that rankled state officials who said people were allowed to return too soon.
Glynn County officials said the water from Floyd's storm surge never got high enough to damage any bridges and that roads were all passable and no washouts had occurred.
Because of the favorable reports, Glynn County Commission Chairman Gerry Robertson canceled the mandatory evacuation and issued an all-clear for all of Glynn County as of 6 p.m. Wednesday. Camden County also lifted its mandatory evacuation order at 6 p.m.
"God gave Glynn County a gift," Mr. Robertson said. "I think we're very, very fortunate considering what we were looking at yesterday afternoon."
Judy and Steve Dixon returned to their St. Simons Island home about 5:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the mandatory evacuation was lifted Wednesday.
Both said they were glad the storm had missed St. Simons Island and they would not hesitate to evacuate again in a similar threat.
"You can't take a gamble on it," he said. "It's aggravating."
After returning from Waycross Wednesday, John Crouse said he went to his house and the St. Marys Submarine Museum, where he works as curator, to check on damage. He found none.
"I forgot a roll of tape on the window sill, and it was still there when I got back," Mr. Crouse said. "It's nice to know nothing happened. There were more leaves on the ground in Waycross than there are in St. Marys."
When Mr. Robertson issued the countywide mandatory evacuation Tuesday, forecasters were saying Floyd could come within 30 miles of St. Simons Island and could make landfall between Brunswick and Savannah.
That meant that the barrier islands would have been raked by hurricane force winds for hours and battered by a storm surge from 15 to 21 feet.
The tidal surge sent water over beachfront retaining walls on St. Simons Island and Sea Island -- flooding some streets, yards and the lawn of the 127-year-old St. Simons Lighthouse, police said.
Authorities said it was too soon yesterday to determine the extent of beach erosion.
Power outages, downed limbs and toppled trees were reported in scattered areas on the islands and mainland. Isolated street flooding also was reported in low-lying areas of Brunswick and unincorporated areas of the county.