While the rest of Glynn County tuned in to powerful Hurricane Irma’s steady trudge toward South Florida, Maurice Butler kept his eye out Wednesday for a foe that had already slithered itself into local relevance.
“There’s water moccasins up and down the banks,” the Brunswick Public Works employee said, sitting atop a backhoe in the middle of a drainage ditch in Brunswick’s Magnolia Park neighborhood.
Butler was among the many Brunswick and Glynn County public works employees who were out in force Wednesday, clearing and inspecting drainage systems throughout the Golden Isles — common sense steps as a Category 5 hurricane moved ever closer packing historic sustained winds of 185 mph. Glynn County and Coastal Georgia could potentially see impacts from Hurricane Irma as early as this weekend, which prompted Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to issue a state of emergency Wednesday for the six coastal Georgia counties, including Glynn, Camden and McIntosh. The other three are Bryan, Liberty and Chatham counties.
Projections showed late Wednesday the storm could be just off the coast of Brunswick by 2 p.m. Monday.
“Ahead of Hurricane Irma, I’ve issued an executive order prohibiting price gouging and waiving rules and regulations for motor vehicles transporting supplies, equipment, personnel, goods and services associated with disaster assistance and relief,” Deal said in announcing the state of emergency.
Jay Wiggins, director of Glynn County’s Emergency Management Agency, said it was too early to tell on Wednesday what effects Irma might have on the Golden Isles and the Georgia Coast. Wiggins will meet again Thursday morning with other county officials and public safety chiefs to determine what actions to take locally as Irma gets closer. County officials decided Wednesday it was too early to take further measures following a briefing with National Weather Service forecasters at the county’s Harold Pate Building, Wiggins said.
“We continue to monitor the storm and work together to plan and prepare for impacts we may have,” Wiggins said late Wednesday afternoon. “We will come together tomorrow to make final decisions.”
Wiggins urged residents to closely follow updates on Irma and be prepared — a warning that was already being heeded with enthusiasm, judging by local retailers’ difficulty keeping bottled water stocked on shelves Tuesday and Wednesday.
A sign on the entrance door to the Winn Dixie at Lanier Plaza in Brunswick gave shoppers fair warning Wednesday: “Customers: We are out of water. Don’t know when the truck will be here.” The bottled water shelves at the Winn Dixie on St. Simons Island were all but empty Tuesday night, as were the bottled water shelves at Walmart Neighborhood Market earlier that afternoon. A manager at the Lanier Plaza Winn Dixie said he expected a truck to arrive to restock the shelves later Wednesday afternoon.
“We urge people to continue to make preparations,” Wiggins said. “We are several days away from it, if we receive impact. We’ve got several days and we will let people know as soon as it becomes necessary to take action.”
Meanwhile, public works crews busied themselves by ensuring that vital ditches, culverts and drainage basins were cleared of overgrowth and obstructions. County crews additionally checked generators that operate the Emergency Operations Center at the Public Safety Complex as well as those that keep emergency communications towers powered.
“We’re taking a closer look at all of the low-lying areas,” County Public Works Director Dave Austin said Wednesday. “And we’re making sure our drainage ditches and culverts aren’t blocked, and checking to see that our major outfall areas are clear and ready to accept the added water that we could receive.”
Brunswick crews also were busy Wednesday, looking to correct any drainage issues in the Magnolia Park and College Park neighborhoods, as well as the drainage basin between L and N streets, city Public Works Director Rick Charnock said.
“We’re just running around, hitting everywhere and trying to make sure everything is cleaned up,” Charnock said. “We’re focusing today on areas where we know we have drainage issues.”
Such as that ditch behind Woodland Way in Magnolia Park, where public works employee Butler and his Dig-It backhoe sheared away swaths of overgrowth along the ditch’s embankment. And sure enough, Butler’s handiwork stirred up some of the ditch’s more ornery inhabitants. A little, foot-long moccasin snaked its away across the surface of the water a few feet ahead of the backhoe. Seconds later, a 2-footer crossed to the opposite bank.
“There’s an even bigger one on the bank over there,” Butler said, pointing toward a section of ditch he had already cleared. “You’ve just got to keep an eye out for them, that’s all.”
Butler said he and the rest of Brunswick public works crew would likely be out clearing drainage ditches for the rest of the week. The ditch in question was part of a vital city drainage basin that eventually empties into the salt marsh on the eastern side of U.S. Highway 17, he said.
“A lot of water comes through here, so we gotta keep these ditches clean,” he said. “What we’re doing now, you see it — we’re out here trying to get it done. It will stop a lot of flooding around here.”
As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, Hurricane Irma was 50 miles north of San Juan Puerto Rico, moving west/northwest at 16 mph with sustained winds of 185 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane warnings are in effect for the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, among other Caribbean island nations, the hurricane center said.
According to National Hurricane Center tracking projections, Irma could reach Miami and the Florida keys by 8 a.m. Sunday. The current tracking predictions show Irma turning north up the Atlantic Coast of Florida, possibly near Daytona Beach by 8 a.m Monday with impacts reaching Coastal Georgia. By 2 p.m. Monday, the 5 p.m. update showed the storm just off the coast of Brunswick.
A state of emergency has been issued for the entire state of Florida.
According to the National Weather Service, Irma is the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic and among the strongest ever recorded, in terms of wind speed.
Closings and cancelations
Frederica Academy has canceled all extracurricular activities Thursday and Friday. That includes Friday’s home football game against Valwood.
The Glynn County School System has tentatively moved the Glynn Academy football game versus Camden County to Thursday at 6 p.m. at Glynn County Stadium. No word will be given on closings until after an emergency management meeting Thursday morning.
All Brunswick-Glynn County Water and Sewer Commission meetings scheduled for Thursday have been canceled.
College of Coastal Georgia Police sent a text message to students Wednesday that the college is canceling classes starting at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The campus will be closed starting at 6 p.m. Thursday and will remain closed through Tuesday.