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How people weathered the storm
Linda Doolittle inspects damage to her longtime home in Long County. - photo by Photo by Dan Scott

Hurricane Matthew brought rain and wind that knocked down trees and power lines in Liberty and Long counties.

Some residents stayed home, facing the storm head on. Others thought evacuation was their best option.
Here are a few of the stories:

Krystal Hart

Krystal Hart packed up her two girls and headed to Valdosta at the urging of her husband, a Hinesville firefighter, who stayed behind. He wanted to be able to focus on the task at hand rather than worry about his family at home.

Hart said she was packed and ready to go when it was reported that the power could be out for days. With a motel room already booked, she and her children were ready to go until there was another issue.

“The majority of my family lives in Sunbury. So when they ordered the mandatory evacuation for everyone east of 17, my mom rounded up all our elderly family members and they had nowhere to go,” Hart said. “I was prepared for my immediate family, but I wasn’t for my extended family. So I kind of went into panic mode.”

Hart and her sister started calling apartment complexes in Valdosta, hoping to rent vacant apartments for their relatives. One complex — Spanish Mission Apartments — agreed.

“They agreed to let us rent out a furnished apartment that was empty and charged us what a hotel would have charged us. The community was very giving. We had a lot of people who donated air mattresses and food and supplies. So it was great that people were willing to help us in Valdosta as well,” Hart said.

Staying in a hotel may seem like a vacation to some but Hart is the founder of Sparrow Communications, a public relations agency, and was set to work for clients remotely. That came to a halt.

Some of her clients are based in Savannah and she had to keep in contact with Chatham Emergency Management agency to post updates for her clients and then family and friends started to rely on Hart for information. She set up her own crisis communication plan and station in her hotel room and stayed up around the clock, posting information for personal and professional pages.

“I was ready to work on my business, but I never thought about having a plan in place to halt my business so that I can focus on other things,” Hart said. “I just assumed that if I had my business I can continue.”
Hart came across a lot of negative comments on social media while posting information.

“Overall, I was surprised at how many people did not want to evacuate, even though they had the means to do so. But after the damage came through they were impatient and not willing to allow the emergency service workers to do their job. We were warned that we would be without power for days and they chose to stay,” Hart said. “It blew my mind that they made a personal decision. They knew what the outcome would be and decided to stay and now they’re angry.”

She was also “amazed” at how many people didn’t know where to get information. She intercepted conversations with people who did not check with their local emergency management agency office or follow their local officials on social media. She called it an educational experience for many people and a great opportunity for organizations, including churches, to educate its members about emergency preparedness.

Hart said she realizes a lot of people did not have the option to evacuate and began to ask herself: How do we make sure that we don’t pack up and leave everyone behind who can’t get out?

Linda Doolittle

As Hurricane Matthew inched closer Friday night, Linda Doolittle said she had a feeling she needed to get herself and her elderly mother out of Doolittle’s mobile home.

“I had a funny feeling that day and told Mom, ‘we need to leave,’” Doolittle said. “So we did. We went over to a house that (her mother owns). I stayed up through the night and listened to all the wind and said to myself, ‘please, Jesus, please don’t let my home be gone.’”

After the storm had passed the next day, her friend Gene Dasher gave Doolittle the bad news. A massive tree had fallen onto the trailer, crushing the roof and rendering her home for the past 17 years uninhabitable. She drove over to inspect the damage.

“I just looked, I stood still, I just looked and said, ‘oh my God, it’s gone,” Doolittle said. “This thing has been here since 1975 … it’s been through all kinds of things.”

Doolittle doesn’t have insurance, saying she’s been told the mobile home is too old to insure. She said family members have told her the trailer is also a total loss.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “This and my car is everything I own.”

But she’s also lucky to be alive, she said.

“We do have our lives, that’s the important thing,” Doolittle said, after noting that relatives are telling her there’s a silver lining. “My sister’s house burnt down three years ago and she said she came back stronger. I hope that’s what happens to me. But I’m still devastated by this.

Cyntia Pickens

Cyntia Pickens lives off Highway 196 and spent part of Tuesday at the United Way of the Coastal Empire Liberty Branch, where she was one of the people seeking essentials as the agency passed out food, toiletries, blankets, water, gas cards and gift cards.

Pickens said she couldn’t evacuate from the storm because she didn’t have money or transportation and her son has cerebral palsy.

Though Pickens said there was no damage to her home, she lost power and the food she had spoiled.

She was critical of the local response to the storm.

“It seemed like everything was on short notice,” Pickens said. “What about people without transportation and people with disabilities? I was given 1-800 numbers to call, but no help came. We were scared but there was nothing we could do besides make it like everyone else.”

Pickens said her son also has chronic asthma and chronic allergies and sometimes uses a breathing machine. She was grateful it was not needed during the storm because of the power outage.

Pickens recalled hearing a lot of wind and her street flooded.

“I wish I was more prepared,” Pickens said. “I would’ve left, because I’ve been through rough storms before. I’ve been through enough storms.”

Kwinetta Moore

Leaving Hinesville was not an easy decision for Kwinetta Moore.

She said Hinesville has become like family, but there was another family member that was more important — she is pregnant and knew she had to leave.

Moore went to Pearson, about 30 miles from Waycross and stayed with her mother-in-law.

Her husband stayed behind to work at a hotel in Savannah to serve evacuees from Tybee Island, who could not travel any further. The hotel’s power went out, including the backup generator. Moore’s husband didn’t have anything to eat for two days. Food at the hotel was spoiled and stores were closed. Finally after two days someone bought him food.

While in Pearson, Moore tried to keep in contact with church members and students. Moore is the first lady at The Purpose Center Church in Jesup and is a teacher at Snelson-Golden Middle School.

“Finances were a barrier for a lot people and they had to stay,” Moore said. “A lot of people were OK, but a lot were hit by the power outage. I have three members where trees hit their home. One member lives in a trailer and a big tree hit the back of their trailer and displaced them.”

Throughout the storm, Moore tried to stay positive.

“I just think that this time is difficult for everybody. Nothing about this time was easy for anybody. I saw so many different types of negativity on social media. Some people were saying that those who stayed didn’t use any wisdom and people were impatient to get their power back on,” Moore said. “I know a lot of people and thought I could use my social media platform to encourage positivity.”

She said she tried to put things in perspective. She said she now is more appreciative of the small things in life.

“I felt like instead of being ungrateful because it’s hot and the lights were out, consider the first responders who were out for nights on end, missing their families. And the power company, they knew we were without power. They’re trying the best they can. I really wanted everyone to be positive,” Moore said.

The storm also highlighted the seriousness of homelessness in the county.

“There are people who don’t have any place to stay on a consistent basis and a lot of us had to evacuate, but we had a place to evacuate from,” Moore said. “I wish I had more resources to help people. People can go to Food Lion once that’s stocked, but not everyone can do that. It makes me want to do more in Hinesville to help people. I just don’t think those people are exposed to resources enough or we may not know what’s needed. I think there’s a lot more community service needed in our community. Hopefully next time all these things are in place and I want to know about it.”

Dell Wood

Dell Wood, a teacher at Joseph Martin Elementary School, is thankful that her family is safe.

She, her husband, two sons and two dogs left their Hinesville home for Mayo, Florida. She was joined by her sister and her family from St. Simons Island and parents from Sunbury.

Wood travelled the back roads to Florida. Her sister went west on Interstate 10 and ran into traffic jams.

While away, the kids stayed entertained with swimming and the adults tried to stay calm with all the unknown and uncertainty of the storm back home.

“We were constantly watching the Weather Channel and keeping in touch via text. Most of all we were concerned about those who decided to stay. Of course, there was the concern about our homes as well,” Wood said.

She described her neighborhood as “so scary looking” when they returned. Trees and limbs were down, which made it hard to reach their home. Her home did not have power, but there was no damage to her property — only a few trees that toppled her fence.

“Things could have been so much worse,” Wood said. “My sister and her family have still not been able to return to their home, but have heard that things are OK. We should all be thankful that things were not any worse than they are!”

Wood praised those who are working to get everything back to normal and repeated, “It could have been much worse.”

Jodi Bauter

Terry and Jodi Bauter live on Isle of Wight. They didn’t evacuate, Jodi Bauter said, because they have 11 cats, a dog, two ducks, a rabbit and a hamster.

“We didn’t have enough carriers to take them all and we didn’t want to leave them behind,” Bauter said Tuesday, noting her family managed to hunker down and stay safe.

“I think we fared well, even though three trees came down and one hit my husband’s truck,” Bauter said. “It was kind of scary being here during the storm. We kept hearing loud noises from things hitting the roof, and we did have a neighbor down the street have a bunch of trees fall on their roof, and it broke the roof open. We feel really lucky that we didn’t have as much damage as some did.”

Bauter said her home lost power about 7:30 p.m. Friday and they got it back Monday afternoon. The Bauters did leave for a bit after the storm to find cell phone service, but Bauter was complimentary of the response by utility companies.

“I think in Savannah there are a lot of people who aren’t getting power back until the end of the week. We saw utility trucks out on the road after the storm, and I thought they were out there pretty quick. I wasn’t expecting to get water and power back until later in the week. I was pretty amazed.”

As for what her family will do the next time a storm threatens the Georgia coast, Bauter said it depends on the size of the storm.

“I think maybe next time we might leave, with all the trees around here. We were really lucky there wasn’t any major damage,” she said. “I’m thinking about finding some more pet carriers.”

National Guard

When the Thomasville-based 1230th Transportation Company of the Georgia National Guard rolled into Ludowici on Monday bringing pallets of bottled water for residents, it was just one stop out of many for the unit, which had been activated Friday night.

“So far we’ve delivered cots, water, MREs, civilian and military,” said the company’s commander, Capt. Richard Stone. “We delivered water to Claxton, (Sunday) night we delivered 345 cots to Savannah and we’ve got another water mission behind this one.”

More than 40 of Stone’s soldiers made the trip from southwest Georgia to Fort Stewart, where they’ll stay in support of Operation Guardian Oak until they’re no longer needed.

“We’re on call 24-7 … We’re ready to deliver whatever needs to be delivered,” he said. “It feels good to help out.”

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