Originally created 09/16/99

Savannah residents see little destruction



SAVANNAH -- The predicted roar of Hurricane Floyd was barely a whisper in Savannah on Wednesday.

Residents who left their homes Tuesday expecting to find little left instead found little changed in the city and surrounding islands.

"Once again, being in this crook on the coast is wonderful," said Paula DeVivo of Tybee Island. "We made it through another one."

The storms caused by Floyd came and went quietly and quickly through Savannah, leaving very little evidence of anything more than a severe rain or thunderstorm.

Small debris, mostly dead limbs and leaves and a few downed power lines, were the only markers left by what was projected to be Georgia's storm of the century.

"We dodged a very big bullet," said Pete Nichols, public information director for the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency. "Those downed limbs and other debris are nothing more than nature's primming."

Residents started arriving in Savannah almost immediately after the rains stopped at about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

A few curious residents who stayed in town ventured down to River Street to see what damage, if any, had been done to the riverfront restaurants and shops.

Besides a couple of collapsed storm drains and some concrete blown off the side of one of the street's older buildings, it was business as usual on a clear, beautiful night.

As the night wore one, vans and cars with turtle tops and pulling boats began trickling into the city before the 8 a.m. lifting of the mandatory evacuation by the local emergency management agency, using back roads and alternate highways. One person was so eager to come back home Wednesday night that he ran through the barricades set up on Interstate 16, according to Savannah police.

What had been compared to a ghost town earlier this week began feeling a strong pulse as the sun rose today in Savannah. More people started driving in from cities around Georgia and the South to use the first pieces of daylight to survey the damage.

On Tybee Island, Mrs. DeVivo and her husband, Paul, began taking the boards off of their business, Tybee Island Online. The couple had driven all night from Albany, Ga., after hearing the first reports of the storm's passing by without much incident.

They both said that it might be hard for people to take a similar mandatory evacuation seriously after the hype of Floyd.

"What people had to go through to get out of here will make some people think twice about leaving next time," said Mr. DeVivo, who heard of people waiting 12 hours in traffic.

Across the street from their store, a car that had been given two parking tickets two days before Floyd hit was untouched, the tickets still lying intact under the windshield wipers.

Tybee resident Howard Bellinger also made the overnight trip home, coming from his hotel in Augusta in time to see the sunrise on the beach.

He returned home to find not even his trash cans, which had been left outside on his driveway, knocked over or any large debris in his yard.

Despite the lack of a storm, Mr. Bellinger said he would leave again under the same circumstances.

In downtown Savannah, people were pouring out onto the streets to take down plywood and enjoy the sunny morning. Joggers, pedestrians and the first signs of traffic in over 36 hours set the scene for what was nothing more than the start of a picturesque day.

Robert Schwartz, Larry Smith and S.A. Walcott returned early to see for themselves if any of the rumors floating around refugee centers were true.

"We heard that Tybee was under 25 feet of water and that River Street was flooded, but obviously nothing's changed," said Mr. Smith, while standing on a very dry River Street.

But there were some sporadic power outages this morning as some people returned to their homes.

Of the estimated 51,000 who were without power at one point Wednesday night, Mr. Nichols said the number was down to a fraction of that this morning. He also said there were no other problems, except for a couple of downed trees.

He recommended that people planning on returning home take advantage of an extended weekend away, with local schools and most businesses staying closed.

"We're still here and we're going to be here whenever anyone decides to come home," he said.

REACH

Mark Mathis at (706) 823-3332 or marmathis@yahoo.com.