Jekyll Island still closed, but cleanup underway

The piles of brush grew slowly, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, in the Jekyll Island Historic District on Tuesday as crews began the cleanup after Hurricane Irma.

The island, closed to all but emergency workers, was largely spared by Irma, but remains without power and emergency services, said Jessica Scott, a spokeswoman for the Jekyll Island Authority.

“We know we had fewer trees down, which is good,” she said. “And there was no structural damage to the historic district. The biggest issue is power.”

Without power, the authority cannot guarantee safe drinking water or emergency response service, Scott cautioned. Several water lines broke during the storm and tap water is not drinkable, the authority stated. Anyone on Jekyll Island should not flush toilets, run dish or clothes washers, shower, use water outdoors, such as with sprinklers.

National Guard soldiers and Georgia State Patrol troopers were stationed at the entrance of Downing Musgrove Causeway on Tuesday, turning away those without Phase 2 re-entry passes, which county emergency officials gave to critical workers before Irma’s approach.

It is unclear when Jekyll Island may reopen to the public, but Scott said emergency workers are “doing everything they can” to get life back to normal on the jewel of Georgia’s coast.

The News surveyed the damage in the historic district Tuesday and saw several large trees fallen, along with copious clumps of Spanish moss covering the district’s fields. One cedar tree fell perilously close to the DuBignon Cottage, but missed the building by a few feet. The Jekyll wharf and accompanying restaurant appeared intact and unharmed. Water still stood in the broad, live oak-filled fields behind the cottages, but did not appear to pose any major threat.

Rangers from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources used heavy equipment to pick up the largest limbs and pile them next to Riverview Drive. Many of the rangers came from outside the Golden Isles to assist in cleanup, one ranger said.

In a statement Tuesday, the authority said there was “minimal structural damage on the island, most homes are in good shape, but some have sustained damage. Every business on the island has been visited and all are intact with no flooding. Some shops sustained very minor, cosmetic damage.”

In front of the Jekyll Island Club Resort, Gabriella Feher, a resort employee, worked alongside her co-workers raking up debris. She and about a dozen other resort staff stayed at the hotel throughout Irma.

“I was scared, yes,” she said as she cleared a walkway in the sunshine. “It was really windy, but we were in a 100-year-old building, so I felt pretty safe.”

The resort did not suffer any serious damage, she said.

“It just looks messy,” said Feher. “That’s why everyone who stayed is cleaning up. We need to open up for business. I feel lucky we didn’t have any damage. I hope we can be open this week — Monday at the latest.”

Dunes on Jekyll’s beaches appeared to have varying levels of erosion during Hurricane Irma, but the public access plaza at Great Dunes beach looked completely unscathed, save one bended gutter on a bathroom complex. On social media, some users posted pictures of more severe erosion elsewhere on the island. Other parts of Jekyll’s east side had substantial beach erosion. Storm tides caused by the hurricane breached some dune fields, and many beach crossovers are damaged or destroyed. The authority is still assessing the conditions of beach crossovers.

Many of the emergency responders working to reopen Jekyll Island were staying at the Westin Jekyll Island, which opened its doors and offered rooms to National Guard soldiers, state troopers and other workers.

Charis Black, commander of Georgia State Patrol Post 35 on Jekyll Island, sat in the hotel’s conference room Tuesday as he ate tacos with other workers. He said he was grateful for the hospitality and hoped the island’s residents and visitors understand why the island is closed.

“I hope people will stay home until it’s safe here,” he said. “The power is down, but the Jekyll Island Authority is doing a good job — a really good job — at getting things back to normal. We will notify people when it’s safe to return.”

The Westin’s general manager, Kevin Runner, said it just made sense to offer the hotel’s rooms to first responders.

“We were going to have about six or eight staff members stay — that eventually became about 12 — and we talked with GSP (Georgia State Patrol) and offered some rooms,” he said. “The more people are here to respond, the better that is for the community.”

He noted that cooperation between the hotel and authorities enables life to return to normal considerably faster.

“I know what it’s like, and we want to work together,” he said.