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Driving through a mandatory evacuation
Travels with Joe
Joe Gillam
Joe Gillam is retired military and a retired HPD officer. - photo by File photo

It has always been Chong and I who make our road trip plans, but this one was dictated by the mayor and council’s mandatory evacuation order for Hinesville.

Inland reservations were scarce, but I finally found a room for Sunday and Monday night just south of Atlanta. Chong packed us up like it was a trip to the Yukon and off we went at 0-dark-30 Sunday morning.

I arrived at the Fort Stewart front gate to learn that the post was closed, even including driving through to Pembroke. I chatted with the MP a bit and learned that their plan was to lock the gates and move to shelter at high wind. So, back through Hinesville and Highway 196 to Glennville.

Hinesville was closed tight, just a couple of gas stations open and the same in Glennville. But, funny, Claxton was open for business; Micky Ds, grocery stores and even a few businesses on an early Saturday morning.

As I drove along, I took note of folk’s individual preparedness. Some homes boarded up, cars pulled up close to the house, lawn furniture gone, and then some people were business as usual. I saw one home that brought tears to my eyes. A much older single wide trailer with an ancient pickup pulled close and the trailer windows boarded up with various kinds of plywood. It made me think, this family did not have much, but they were doing their best to protect it.

Chong and I said a short prayer for them and renewed our thankfulness for our gifts.

We came up on I-16 and I did not know what to think. Had I beaten the crowd with my early start or would it be 25 mph all the way to Atlanta. We stopped on the overpass and checked the road. No contraflow and the west bound traffic was thin. Down the ramp and up to cruising speed. A nice easy ride to Macon where we stopped for coffee and a stretch. I talked to a few travelers, all dodging the hurricane. They were going to family in Alabama, hotels in Atlanta and one couple from Savannah who had to go to Dalton to find a reservation.

Back on the road and the next question was what would the I-75 merge present. We merged right into the traffic, never having to drop below 50 mph. A little more traffic than I-16, but no congestion. As we drove along I checked the license plates; mostly Florida and Georgia but a sprinkling of everything else. I guess these were vacationers heading home to dodge the weather.

All along the way I looked for Liberty or Long county tags and saw only one. A family in a big SUV pulling a box trailer. It looked more like they were moving, than evacuating the storm. We did not get a chance to talk to them.

We arrived at our motel well before check in time. The staff was very helpful and said we could check in as soon as a room was ready. The maid happened to be at the desk and for a small tip she cleaned our room first. We got settled in and flipped the TV between storm news and Sunday football. Neither was very dramatic. It looked like the storm was turning west, which was good news for our Coastal Empire, but not so good for us as it was now headed to Atlanta. We were comfortable and it was going to be just a strong tropical storm when it got to Atlanta.

Chong’s youngest son, Joshua, is a nurse at Piedmont Hospital in Henry County so he joined us for the Cowboys’ game Sunday night. Papa John dropped off a couple of pizzas and we had an enjoyable time watching the Cowboys win. Josh drifted off to sleep then left about 5 a.m. as his shift started at 6.

Chong and I went downstairs around 8 for the motel breakfast and met some of the other guests. All were storm evacuees. Families from Savannah, Jacksonville and other Florida cities. The people from southern Florida were very worried, and we shared their concerns. We exchanged email addresses and will check on them in a few weeks.

After breakfast, I took Chong to the Atlanta airport to catch her flight to Korea. She goes about every other year to visit her brother and sister. Her flight departed right on time at 10:15 then, a bit later, all flights in and out were canceled or diverted. I went back to the hotel to ride out whatever was coming to Atlanta. I was fine in the big brick motel and well fed on Chong’s stash of travel foods.

The next day, I drove to Hinesville to find all in order at home — just leaves and branches down, no damage. My power was off until Wednesday and, when the lights came on, I sat at my desk and got a shock; the longest "honey do" list known to man. You won’t see me around town this month, I’ll be home working my butt off.

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