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Storms, near misses dot area history
Liberty lore
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The Weather Channel has just about been worn out lately trying to keep up with the latest hurricanes and tropical storms. We in Liberty County have been blessed to escape the fury so far, except for a small amount of wind damage. We cannot complain when we think of the devastating effect they had on our neighboring states.
We all remember the terror of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans three years ago. On Wednesday, as I write this, we are watching Hanna, Ike and Josephine.
I thought back over my lifetime, about all the hurricanes. I recalled the very first time I ever heard the word. My grandpa brought the mail from the mailbox and handed it to mama. We were standing in the yard and she immediately unfolded the Savannah Morning News and saw the picture of a palm tree that was bending in the wind. She told me a hurricane was coming.
"Mama, what is a hurricane?" I asked. I was 3 at the time. She described the rain and wind and something to be feared. That scared me. We did not have a TV in 1950 to turn on and hear Pat Prokop give the latest Doppler radar reading. We had to wait for the newspaper and watch the clouds as they appeared over the cornfields. This particular storm was probably Hurricane Love that affected the Cedar Key in Florida and caused heavy flooding along the coastlines of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in 1950.
The storm blew some of the boards off our back porch that ran between the main house and the kitchen. As Daddy was repairing them Saturday, I kept stepping on them and he hollered at me. This was all the damage I remember ever happening at my home from a storm.
If a bad storm came up while during the day and Daddy was home, he would have us get in the Model A and take us to the Baxter's Bridge on Highway 301, which was in walking distance of our farm. We climbed on the large concrete slabs under the bridge and sat there or played on them while it was storming. The cars made a roaring noise as they passed over the bridge. We felt safe and secure under the bridge. My grandpa would never "evacuate" with us, but stayed home. If there had been a nice highway bridge near my home in 1999 when all of Liberty County had to evacuate because of Hurricane Floyd, I think I would have rather camped under it than suffer through the bumper-to-bumper traffic to Albany. Upon our return home three days later, we did not even have a limb down in our yard. Blessed again!
I have done much research lately on hurricanes and found some interesting information. Hurricanes were not named until 1950 and then they used the phonetic alphabet. In 1953, the nation's weather service began using just female names for tropical storms after they reached a wind speed of 39 miles per hour. They use a chart of six lists with 21 names on them. Every other name is female. Thank goodness, my name is not on the lists. There are no names that begin Q, U, X,Y and Z. Each new hurricane season, the first one begins with the letter A. After six years the names begin with list one again. Once a hurricane has caused a lot of damage, its name is retired from the lists another name is chosen. Andrew, Camille, David and Hugo are a few of the retired names.
In 1893, more than 1,000 people were killed by a hurricane induced storm surge in Charleston, S.C. It made landfall in Savannah, where winds reached 120 mph.
In October 1898, a hurricane struck coastal Georgia near Cumberland Island, killing 179 in Georgia and northern Florida and setting storm surge records that still stand. It crossed the island with wind speeds of 135 mph. I saw a photo with ships marooned in the marshes at Brunswick and lumber scattered across docks. A man waded in water up to his waist on Newcastle Street. A lady sat in a rocking chair in a second story room and dipped her feet in the water outside the window. Rice cultivation almost came to a halt as the dikes were destroyed along the coast.
The Labor Day Hurricane, a Category 5, hit the Florida Keys in 1935, killing 423 people. Many of them were World War I veterans building a bridge from the mainland to the Keys. This was the first Category 5 hurricane known to hit the USA.
On Sept. 16, 1928, a hurricane came through, ravaged Palm Beach and then went inland 50 miles to Lake Okeechobee. The storm caused the 700-square-mile lake to flood its banks. When it was over, at least 1,838 people had been killed and as many injured. They had a mass burial of 1,600 people and a memorial marker stands there today. I read two accounts of the storm by victims who survived, but never forgot that fearful night. One victim said people who came to Florida were pretty hardy people and the residents were strong. Tony Wood, another victim of the storm said, "Anyone who was tough enough to stand the mosquitoes wasn't worried about a hurricane!"
We have records of the furious hurricanes that tore up Sunbury and Liberty County in 1804 and 1924. Perhaps the best account of an antebellum storm in Liberty County was recorded in a letter written by the Rev. and Mrs. Charles C. Jones to their oldest son describing the impact of a massive hurricane that ravaged coastal Georgia in early September 1854. Unable to leave, Rev. Jones had little choice but to gather his household together, weather the storm and pray.
"The wind veers northwest. It blows a hurricane! There goes another tree! The top of the grand hickory is off! I was upstairs fastening the windows. A loud jar and explosion below! What's that? I rushed down, and a perfect upstir. Both shutters of the two large windows opening into the front piazza, although fastened back, suddenly and at the same moment blown to with a loud report, shivering many panes of glass in each. Your Aunt Abby for a moment much frightened. Servants picking up the glass in both rooms. Rain driving through the broken panes. Waiters, sheets, etc., crammed in and water shut out. All the pride-of-India trees in the front yard down but two. Two of the poplars snapped off. Three locust trees torn up. There goes the old cedar on the lawn!  Poor old fellow, riven from top to bottom, split in two. How the wind roars!"
Nearly every plantation in Liberty County experienced great storm damage but Savannah suffered beyond description, according to Mary Jones. An epidemic of yellow fever was already raging when the hurricane hit, blocking the streets with uprooted trees, leveling houses and casting the city into a horror of darkness that lasted several nights. She then lamented, "Only think of the poor sufferers under such circumstances — the sick, the dying, the dead, all shrouded in darkness; not a ray of light with which to administer medicine or to catch the farewell look of affection or perform the last sad offices!"  
The Jones family felt lucky to have only lost their trees, causeway bridge, assorted plantation buildings and crops. To the Rev. Jones, the hurricane was both a sign of God's mercy and a rebuke against worshipping temporal possessions, whereas his wife thought it a test of faith, praying, "Oh, that my spiritual house may be founded upon the Everlasting Rock, which neither rain nor storms can beat upon or destroy!"
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