Making phone calls and dictating talk-to-text messages, Dave Austin drove around St. Simons Island on Tuesday organizing recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma.
As Glynn County’s director of public works, Austin has been one of the primary coordinators between his department, the National Guard, county contractors and first responders as they work to clear roads around Glynn County of fallen trees and debris.
For many public works employees, it was personal. The storm destroyed or damaged some of the public projects on which they had worked.
“This one hurts,” said one public works employee, looking at the boardwalk leading out to the beach near the corner of Postell Avenue and Myrtle Street on St. Simons Island.
Through the storm, public works was also continually on-call. Many of the employees stayed in Brunswick High School and responded to problems as they arose. That is, until the wind speeds reached 40 mph and made it unsafe to respond.
Public works has been on cleanup detail since Monday, along with several National Guard units, multiple private companies contracted by the county, and residents and companies working on their own.
Glynn County Fire Department firefighters were also cranking up chainsaws and brandishing axes to clear trees from roads all over the county. As the power lines can’t be fixed until the trees obstructing them are cleared, Georgia Power was also coordinating with public works.
Irma washed over the Golden Isles on Sunday and Monday after drifting westward multiple times over the weekend. Glynn County Commission Chairman Bill Brunson said the information they were given at the Emergency Operations Center suggested a storm had broken off from Irma as it passed and hit the Golden Isles.
Local officials declared the county would not be open for re-entry and checkpoints would be set up to stop people trying to re-enter. Clearing the streets of fallen trees and limbs is essential to allowing the public to return.
Austin wasn’t comfortable giving an estimate on when the work might be done, because the sheer volume of downed limbs and power lines will keep them busy for a while.
Much of the work in the immediate aftermath dealt with bridge inspection. Not all were in the best of shape. Ben Pierce, public works division manager, pointed out why the bridge over Dunbar Creek on Sea Island Road had to be closed.
Erosion around the supports under where the bridge connects to the road had eroded, increasing the possibility they may breakdown.