St. Simons Island resident Robert Hewson walked downstairs early Monday morning and looked out at crystal-clear, strangely beautiful still water.
“When the power went off at about 5 a.m., I came down, and it was beautiful green water about 6 inches down below,” he said. “It looked kind of pristine.”
That water, however, covered the floor of his bottom-level garage.
“And then, the mud started coming in,” Hewson said Thursday morning, as he cleared out his destroyed, waterlogged possessions and piled them up in the driveway. He sweated in the hot sun outside his home on Myrtle Street as he removed soggy boxes and bins that had been soaked by about 2 feet of flooding during Hurricane Irma.
“All the older houses here flooded, pretty much,” he said.
Irma left her mark on St. Simons Island when she hit the Golden Isles on Monday. Streets flooded, huge trees were knocked down and many homes experienced significant damage.
Most roads on St. Simons Island had been cleared of trees and limbs by Thursday, when the county’s re-entry restrictions were lifted. But that debris now sits piled up along the side of roads, offering evidence of Irma’s wrath.
Many island residents were out walking and biking Thursday morning, and the street traffic increased as evacuees returned.
Chandler Clark, a St. Simons Island resident, had been without power since Sunday afternoon.
“It’s going on four days,” he said, sitting in a parked yellow golf cart in the Pier Village.
Clark remained on the island through the storm, and he said he wouldn’t do that again.
“We stayed. We rode it out,” he said.
Allen Wooten, co-owner of St. Simons Bait & Tackle, also stuck out the storm from home. Irma scared him more than he thought it would.
“You could hear trees falling,” he said. “When they tell you these trees are heavy enough to kill you, it’s scary.”
Wooten’s store, in the Pier Village, had power Thursday and experienced no flooding. But Wooten said the waters outside at one point creeped up just about 50 paces from his store’s front doors, and the waves were taller than him.
The storm’s strong winds also left damage at his home.
“The very last limb in Glynn County speared my house,” Wooten said.
Work crews were out all over the island Thursday morning, repairing power lines, cutting up trees and clearing limbs.
The live oaks that cover the island pose a serious threat in a storm like Irma, Hewson said.
“It’s scary with those things moving around,” he said.
St. Simons Island resident Joel Goldstone said his home on Brown Drive had been damaged by massive fallen tree branches.
Both Goldstone and Hewson had cellphone camera libraries filled with picture after picture showcasing Irma’s destruction. They’d seen water flow down Myrtle Street like a river, pine trees knocked over like match sticks in Massengale Park and flooding up over people’s car tires.
Goldstone said he’d evacuate next time. But Hewson said he’s glad he stayed, so he could minimize the damage more quickly.
“When the power goes out, the refrigerators go out and all the ice melts, you need to be here to catch the water,” he said.
But if Hewson hadn’t acted quickly, to move his cars and retreat upstairs, he said the flood damage could have been much worse.
“It was scary,” he said. “You feel helpless, because you can’t stop it, you know?”