Without power, without hope: Hurricane hits hard in low-income communities
Flooding could still be seen throughout the Shady Acres Mobile Home Community in Sterling on Tuesday afternoon.
Tiffany Fields/The Brunswick News

Martin Burkhart sat in his red Jeep Grand Cherokee outside his home Tuesday.

With the driver’s side window rolled down, he stared across the debris-covered road into his neighbor’s flooded yard. He looked desperately ahead as two tubes carried oxygen from a machine up into his nose.

With only four hours of his oxygen supply left, Burkhart didn’t know Tuesday morning how he’d be able to get more. His electricity had been out in his mobile home for two days, and he said emergency personnel wouldn’t be able to come help him.

“There’s no one to call,” he said.

Hurricane Irma left damage in its wake across Glynn County. The storm knocked out the power to more than 46,000 homes, including every home in the Shady Acres Mobile Home Community in Sterling, an unincorporated area of Glynn County.

For some low-income neighborhoods, like the mobile home park in Sterling, the consequences of the storm are dire. The storm brought significant damage in the area and left many in need of serious repairs.

The area experienced heavy flooding. Several trees had fallen among and even pierced homes. The siding underneath some trailers had been torn off, and at least one trailer’s roof had been peeled back by the strong winds that blew through early Monday morning.

“I thought my roof was going to come off like three times,” said Glenn Conner, a Shady Acres resident. “We had several winds that were like 100 miles per hour … It was pretty bad.”

On Tuesday, Conner had begun to pile up tree limbs and clumps of Spanish moss that fell during the storm. He said his electricity went out around 1 a.m. Monday.

“After the power went out, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face,” he said. “By the time dawn came, (the storm) was calming down a little bit.”

By Tuesday morning, the sun had come out and birds were chirping in the trailer park. The occasional distant siren whistled by on the neighboring highway.

Cats and dogs wandered the streets and laid on porch steps of empty, soggy homes.

Johnny Cummings, 16, leaned against a car in his mom’s front yard on Tuesday morning, left with little to do while the electricity was out.

“It got scary,” he said. “A tree limb came through the house. It came straight in the house.”

Along with strong gusts of wind that brought down trees and limbs, the neighborhood also experienced significant flooding, said Gilda Melendez, who was staying with her brother in Shady Acres.

One resident in the trailer next door had to be rescued from her flooded home by a neighbor in a boat.

“It was flooded, all around the house was flooded, and I think she wanted to get out because the water was getting really tall,” Melendez said.

She’d witnessed the event on Monday and had video of the rescue on her cellphone.

Still without power Tuesday, Melendez sat in her car to charge her phone as her brother worked to cut down a large tree branch hanging near his home.

Two men on the ground pulled hard on a thick rope tied to the branch, as Melendez’s brother — about 25 feet up in the tree — cut through the branch with a chainsaw. Finally, the branch came loose and fell to the ground with a loud crash.

Hurricane Irma had been much worse than Melendez expected.

“We didn’t think it was really going to be that bad, but then when it started raining and the wind started blowing, I was freaking out,” she said. “I was really scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Several Shady Acres residents said that despite the blanket of debris that covered much of their neighborhood, Irma had brought less damage than Hurricane Matthew did last year.

“It was just a lot of winds,” said Thomas Haney, a Sterling resident. “Last time, when Matthew come through, we had big limbs falling everywhere. It was worse than what it is now.”

Haney’s home experienced some flooding and a tree fell on his shed. But Matthew caused more damage, he said.

“Matthew shook the trailers,” he said, as he and his son cleaned up Irma’s litter from his yard.

Others who rode out the storm had also armed themselves with rakes and began to clean up around Shady Acres on Tuesday morning. Many trailers still remained empty as evacuees had not yet been allowed to return home. After listening to the winds whip and branches bang all night, Melendez said next time around, she would evacuate, too.

“I’m out,” she said.