Regina Shepard was out of money and time Wednesday afternoon as she sat in her car at the Glynn County line.
Police and soldiers turned the diabetic social worker around after she’d driven from Dublin down the highway back to her St. Simons Island home. Evacuees from Hurricane Irma were not cleared to return yet, they told her before she pulled to the side of the road and waited.
“I saw on the news that the causeway was open,” she said, referring to the only route onto the island. “I guess I didn’t pay enough attention. I didn’t realize the county was closed.”
With not enough gas to go back to Dublin, only a few pieces of fruit and some bottled water, Shepard was stuck. She had three days worth of insulin left — a supply that had dwindled from the eight-day stock she took when she left Friday.
Shepard was among scores of people who were turned away at interstate ramps, U.S. highways and county roads leading into the Golden Isles during the mandatory evacuation period following the storm.
The county will reopen at 8 a.m. Thursday, but for many, that could not come quickly enough. The Humvees and police cars blocking gateways caused headaches for residents of all strata of society.
Miles away at Interstate 95’s exit 38, Hilary McIvor sat in a dark hotel lobby with her 10-year-old son, Eoghan, and his goldfish, “Goldie.” Their belongings were piled next to them, topped with a case of bottled water.
“We evacuated Thursday,” the Wellington, Fla.-resident said. “We were in Gainesville (Fla.) first, then came here.”
McIvor originally fled her Florida home with her husband, a commercial airline pilot. When he was called in to work, he took the family car to fly out of Jacksonville, Fla. Then, the power at the hotel went out.
Her husband would not be able to return to his family because of the blockades, and McIvor was beginning to worry. She, her son and his goldfish were the last remaining guests of the hotel.
“I guess I’ve learned not to evacuate to an evacuation zone,” she said with a nervous laugh.
At checkpoints across the county, several police officers — none of whom would give their names because they were not authorized to speak on the record — expressed frustration.
"People need to know it's not safe to come back," one officer said at a road block on U.S. Highway 341. "We've had to turn people away all day."
As public frustration mounted Wednesday, emergency officials rescinded the evacuation order and told area residents they could return the next morning. But the damage may have been done.
"Oh, no, I don't think I'll evacuate next time," Shepard said while she hunkered down in her car at the border of Glynn County.
Not everyone has the option of staying, though. Lynne Barron, who lives on a boat at the Jekyll Island marina, said she evacuated Saturday because she knew she could not stay on the water.
"I had no choice but to evacuate," she said outside a hotel near I-95. "I just wish they (officials) would have some compassion for people who feel stranded. I feel like they could figure something out."
Barron stayed at a hotel near the interstate — outside the evacuation zone — with her dog, until the hotel lost power.
"They basically kicked us out," she said. "They didn't tell us we had to leave, but they requested it. I'm just ready to get back to normal."