As folks settle in for a weekend of barbecue, beach outings and college football, it is hard to believe that a year ago today Glynn County officials issued a mandatory evacuation as a menacing Hurricane Irma closed in on the Golden Isles.
Irma would later weaken from a powerful hurricane to a tropical storm before passing well west of here Sept. 10-11, 2017. But the massive storm system inundated Glynn County with nearly 10 inches of rain, flooded it with record storm surge and lashed it with hurricane force wind gusts.
And who among us still recalls Oct. 7-8 of 2016, when Hurricane Matthew skirted offshore from the Golden Isles while delivering punishing wind damage, widespread power outages and a $4.4 million county cleanup bill?
Jay Wiggins surely has not forgotten. Although the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season has been subdued thus far, September and October are perennially the most active months for named storms, he said. Wiggins, director of the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency, knows this year’s hurricane season is just hitting its stride.
“We’re slap dab in the middle of hurricane season,” Wiggins said. “Historically, September and October are the most active periods of hurricane season. I don’t mean that to scare people. I just want them to be aware, to take it seriously.”
It is Wiggins’ job to take hurricane season seriously. That is why he already is monitoring Hurricane Florence, the first major storm of 2018 as it chugs far out in the Atlantic. There are two tropical systems forming behind Florence that also have Wiggins’ attention. Tropical Storm Gordon came ashore Tuesday night near the Alabama-Mississippi border with near hurricane force winds, knocking out power to thousands and claiming the life of a child in Pensacola, Fla. Florence is the eighth named storm of 2018.
“We are seeing a heating-up of the Atlantic right now,” Wiggins said. “We have some active systems out there right now. Florence, believe it or not, is still in play for us. We may see some high surf and rip currents next week or so. It’s a good reminder.”
Florence could cause dangerous surf and rip currents along parts of the U.S. East Coast this weekend as the storm swirls across the Atlantic, according to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center.
Though weakened to a tropical storm, Florence was expected to regain hurricane strength as it neared Bermuda. Large swells were likely to start hitting the British island territory in the north Atlantic Ocean on Friday.
Forecasters said it was too soon to tell where the storm would go. Some forecast models showed Florence slamming into land by late next week, while others indicated the storm would curve away from shore.
Improving atmospheric conditions were expected to allow Florence to regain its former strength. The storm reached major hurricane status Wednesday, peaking with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.
Forecasters at Colorado State University predicted another active hurricane season for 2018 as the June 1 start began, forecasting 14 named storms with up to seven becoming hurricanes. However, the midseason forecast that came out in July scaled back its prediction to 10 named storms and four hurricanes this season.
“The midseason numbers came way down, drastically as far as hurricanes are concerned,” Wiggins said. “But I don’t want to fool people. They’re not saying there won’t be hurricanes, they’re just saying they don’t think there will be as many. That doesn’t mean you should not prepare. It only takes one.”
Wiggins urges residents not to be unprepared for that one storm that may still hit here before the 2018 hurricane season is over. Being prepared means having a hurricane kit in place and an evacuation plan mapped out now, before the storm warnings begin.
Hurricane kits should include bottled water, nonperishable foods, flashlights, battery-operated UHF-band radio, spare batteries, medications, pet supplies, et cetera. Should the county declare an evacuation, know where and how you will evacuate, including transportation and a destination, Wiggins said. Additional information on hurricane preparedness is readily available at glynncounty.org/644/Hurricane-Preparedness and ready.gov/hurricanes. The Glynn County EMA Facebook page also has information available.
“Take the sunny days like we have now to prepare for the rainy days,” Wiggins said. “Make your arrangements ahead of time.”
Although hurricane season has wrought costly flooding and wind damage over the past two years in the Golden Isles, it could be worse, Wiggins warns.
“I don’t want to make light of Matthew and Irma, or even Dora in 1964, but we have not taken a direct hit from a hurricane since 1898,” Wiggins said. “If a tropical storm can do what they did, imagine what a direct hit from a hurricane can do? The thing that really keeps me up at night is storm surge. They don’t call us the Low Country for nothing.”
Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.
A few months into his job as a bookkeeper for the Glynn County Superior Court Clerk’s Office, Larry Morten began siphoning away money. Investigators determined he walked away with more than $76,000 between October 2008 and March 2014, though a county audit showed a total of $1.2 million missing. Morten, 36, pleaded guilty Friday to all 70 counts of theft.
During the plea hearing Morten said he was “deeply apologetic” and embarrassed about his actions, calling them a product of stupidity and greed, and an attempt to get a handle on the costs of his mother-in-law’s cancer treatment.
The defense called a number of people to the stand who discussed Morten’s otherwise good character and the quality of his performance at his current job, as the general manager of a used-car dealership franchise. Morten himself made the case for not receiving prison time, explaining that he made enough money at his job to make regular, significant payments for the money he took from the county.
However, Superior Court Judge Robert Guy said he needed to give prison time in this matter because of the violation of the public trust Morten committed. Guy sentenced Morten to eight years in prison and 27 years’ probation, with the option of suspending two of the eight years in prison.
Morten’s plan began unraveling in 2014, when former deputy clerk Darren Jones discovered what appeared to be around $94,000 missing. Lola Jamsky, the former clerk of court, fired Morten in January 2015 for taking the money. Morten claimed he was ordered to move funds around from one account to another regularly, and believes other people were taking money from the county, as well.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation performed an audit in 2016 that revealed more than $673,000 was gone from county accounts. A further audit by the county showed even more money disappeared.
The draft report showed $122,616 was taken and not concealed. There were also checks written to cover up money taken from the child support receiver account — which came to $535,497 — and payments to the clerk’s office that went to cover up the taking of $455,926. Essentially, the county audit declared that Morten took the money because he could — there weren’t the sort of controls, monitoring and oversight needed to prevent such behavior.
The report stated the structural problems in the clerk’s office “resulted in $1,114,039 of missing cash. Also, Larry Morten was able to endorse payments made to the clerk’s office in the amount of $30,347 and deposit them into an account that does not belong to the court’s office.”
Morten was previously supposed to go on trial this month, with jury selection Monday and opening arguments Sept. 17.
Glynn County Animal Control reopened its isolation room Friday, lifting a quarantine imposed last week in response to a cat infected with ringworm.
The shelter on U.S. Highway 17 continued to take in strays and allow adoptions of pets that weren’t exposed to ringworm throughout the quarantine period. Once the shelter opens on Tuesday, it will start accepting voluntary pet surrenders again.
Animal control announced a quarantine of its isolation room in late August. A stray cat captured at a local motel brought ringworm with it to the shelter, said Animal Control Manager Tiffani Hill.
Hill said last week that an animal control officer noticed the cat was losing hair around its ears. The shelter’s veterinarian took a look and determined it was infected.
She said it isn’t likely the infection spread to other animals, but the state Department of Agriculture put the room under quarantine out of an abundance of caution.
“It’s highly unlikely (the other animals in the isolation room) were affected, but the Department of Agriculture has us err on the side of caution,” Hill said last week.
The quarantine affected only the shelter’s isolation room, which is where new animals are kept until animal control staff are sure its safe for them to be housed with the shelter’s general population.
The cat in question didn’t show any symptoms of ringworm, Hill said. They only manifested after it had been moved into the isolation room with other new arrivals.
In order to prevent ringworm exposure, Hill said last week that shelter staff would start inspecting all new arrivals with a black light.
“To prevent this from happening again, we are testing all cats that come in with a black light, which is the best way to immediately test for ringworm because, if there is ringworm, it will normally light up under a black light,” Hill said last week.
Using a black light to test for ringworm is a common practice, and already employed on some new arrivals to the shelter. Hill said all animals coming into the shelter would be tested moving forward.