This time a year ago, Hurricane Claire was threatening the Georgia coast.
On Thursday, the fictional Category 4 storm had come ashore flooding streets and water treatment facilities and parking a barge across the F.J. Torras Causeway.
Emergency managers and response officials from Brunswick, Glynn County and surrounding communities gathered Thursday in the Glynn County Emergency Operations Center and discussed how they would marshal forces to restore services and get things up and running again.
Having delayed his retirement a year, Al Sandrik, a National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, was back discussing what such a storm would do to infrastructure and operations.
With facilities under water, there would be no ability to treat drinking water or sanitize wastewater, said Andrew Burroughs, executive director of Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission. Once the supply lines were pressurized, the available water would be good only for fire protection or have to be boiled, he said.
“I think it’s safe to say power is going out,’’ Sandrik said.
And how about the natural gas pump station that would be inundated, he asked.
How are you going to know if there’s a leak since the odor that helps residents smell leaks is added to the gas when it is pumped into supply lines, not at the pump station?” Sandrik asked.
Having conducted such exercises for years, Sandrik knows the lay of the land and mentioned the flooding of factories and other possible situations where hazardous materials are released.
Getting supplies could be a problem because Waycross, which gets its name for “where ways cross,’’ is a choke point with long drives around the huge rail yard and the Okefenokee Swamp.
Glynn County would protect its vehicles from flooding by staging them at Golden Isles Speedway, but the personnel who would drive them would be “way out of town,’’ Public Works engineer Jason Hartman said.
With the causeway to St. Simons blocked, the county must figure out a way to get to the people on St. Simons who would ride out the storm, Sandrik said.
“We know 22 percent of the population is not going,’’ he said. That computes to about 20,000 people remaining in Glynn County, including thousands on St. Simons Island.
Sandrik said Brunswick residents would stay because of their economic circumstances. Many don’t have cars to drive to safety and those dry in their homes wouldn’t want to get out in the rain to catch a bus taking them to higher ground, he said.
He warned there would be problems with wildlife, including snakes, alligators and floating globs of fire ants.
Sandrick said the scenario he presented is “as bad and it can get.”
The sobering fact is a new study estimates the last hurricane to make a direct hit on Glynn County was in 1898, and that was a Category 2 storm with 15-foot-high flood waters in downtown Brunswick.
Recent hurricanes that caused extensive damage in Glynn County, Mathew and Irma, were tropical storms by the time they struck here.
“A Category 4 hurricane would leave most of the county under water,” he said.
A Category 3 storm would cover 80 percent of the county in water, he said.
Even a Category 2 storm is dangerous enough that emergency responders would be forced to evacuate to Waycross.
The aftermath of a Category 4 storm would have permanent effects, Sandrick said.
He estimates that 25 to 30 percent of people who lost their homes would never return and some who did return would not be able to afford to rebuild.
“There’s going to be major, major issues in terms of recovery,” he said. “You will see slabs with a travel trailer next to them because they can’t afford to rebuild. How do we reestablish St. Simons Island and Brunswick?”
The city of Brunswick is sinking about 5 milliliters a year because of pumping from the aquifer, he said.
“This is before we talk about sea level rise,” he said. “It doesn’t take a Category 4 storm to destroy the city. Two would be enough.”
A question for officials to consider is what they would do with existing building codes.
“You will have a lot of people displaced,” he said. “You live in one of the most vulnerable communities on the Eastern Seaboard. How much does it cost to build right the first time?”