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Tattnall exhales as Hurricane Idalia passes
Hillside Road
Hillside Road

Local residents breathed easier after Idalia, a Category 4 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico just prior to landfall, sailed past with the eye of the storm almost directly over the Tattnall-Evans County line on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, around 11 a.m.  The fast-moving storm came ashore in the Big Bend area of Florida as a Category 3 storm, and the projected track took it about 40 miles due east of Savannah as it moved up toward the South Carolina coastline.

As hurricanes go, this storm was different.  From the beginning, the track, which seemed to line up perfectly on the Tattnall-Evans County line, moved very little, if any.  Jason Durrence, who lives just north of Bellville, allowed on Saturday that the projected track seemed to go right over his house.  On Thursday afternoon, he said, “That’s exactly where it went.”

As the storm churned in towards the Big Bend area of Florida, the projected path and the fact that it was not moving east or west raised local concerns. Meteorologists were predicting gale force to category 1 winds as it passed and up to ten inches of rain west of the eye. The Ohoopee River was predicted to crest at 19.8 feet on Sunday afternoon (11.00 is flood stage).  Fortunately, that did not occur, and it crested at 12.61 on Friday.  The Altamaha crested at 71.15 (flood stage is 74.5).  Most observers attribute the lack of flooding on the rivers to the fact that the storm was moving so fast.

Locally, the rain was generally steady at about three quarters of an inch per hour, with long, rumbling thunder and winds gusting to 20 mph. But there were bands of rain that provided frog-strangling downpours.  Gene Williams of Glennville walked outside with no rain at his house, but across the field, heavy rain blotted out everything.  Rain in the Collins-Cobbtown area was heavier, according to Tattnall County Roads Superintendent Lynn Cribbs.  

“I’ve been living in Hillview for 30 years, and I’ve never seen water across the Hillview Road, but it happened Wednesday,” Cribbs said. Cribbs said he recorded 11.2 inches of rain in two days. This writer recorded just shy of ten inches.

Several roads were closed due to high water.  Tamara K Road in South Tattnall was washed out, and Eugene Knight, Old Cobbtown-Hillview, Ernest Mosley, WJ Akins, and Leighton Boyett roads had water across them and were still closed due to washouts on Tuesday morning.  They were slated to be repaired and opened probably by the end of the day.

Tattnall County Emergency Management Director Walt Rogers agreed that the storm produced more water problems than wind damage.  Winds gusted up to 40 miles per hour locally, but that was only after the eye of the hurricane passed.  Rogers said that Emergency Management personnel were getting ready to go home about 6 p.m. Wednesday when winds on the south side of the storm picked up.

“We had to get trees out of roads until about 10 p.m.,” Rogers said.

Wind gusts in Chatham County and along the beaches may have reached 60 to 65 mph, according to Rogers, but that was well below what was expected as the eye of the storm passed about 40 miles west of Savannah.

Unfortunately, that was not the case in the Big Bend area of Florida.  Around 7:30 a.m., video footage of high winds uprooting or snapping off the tree trunks of huge live oaks at least 150 years old demonstrated just how dangerous the storm was as it made landfall. Storm commentators noted that the black water Steinhatchee River south of Tennille, Florida, rose nine feet in two hours. Valdosta, Georgia, was hammered. 

Power outages across the Southeast might have been less than expected.  Florida had 142,816, Georgia had 116,284, and South Carolina had 32,845 (approximately). Locally, Canoochee EMC Communications Specialist Joe Sikes said the EMC had about 6000 outages at peak, and most all were back on by 8 a.m. Thursday. 

Governor Bryan Kemp came on local television stations at noon on Wednesday to provide a briefing for Georgia residents and stated that it might be 72 hours before all residents had electrical power restored. No doubt, that applied to those counties on the southwestern line near where the storm came ashore. Canoochee was ahead of the game.

“Some of it was luck,” Joe said.  “Truthfully, the storm seemed to skip around some, and, in some cases, the river seemed like it tamped it down some, if that makes any sense. But some of it is due to hard work and planning. We’ve stepped up our right-of-way- maintenance, and we’ve replaced lots of poles and equipment that put us in a better position when storms hit.  I tell you right now, I’m proud to be a Canoochee employee, because our folks work hard and get it done.”

From an agricultural viewpoint, there was some damage to the pecan crop, which will become apparent in the next few days. Gene Williams said Winton Kennedy lost 25 trees. There is probably some row crop damage around the Valdosta area. 

Once again, Tattnall County was spared for the most part.  We can all exhale and thank the Good Lord and strive to help those who lost so much recover as soon as possible.