Mike Craft learned a lesson during Hurricane Irma.
Next time a storm like that blasts through Brunswick, he will not stick around to experience it.
“The wind was unreal,” said Craft, who chose not to evacuate for Irma and rode the storm out in his Old Town home. “I would say (the wind) got up to at least 100 (mph). I mean, it was whippin’. I mean whippin’. Two or three times, it got me worried, like big time.”
Craft sat on the front porch of his dad’s house on Prince Street on Friday morning, taking a break from cleaning out the freezer inside.
His 92-year-old dad and his sister, who both live in houses in Old Town, evacuated together and were returning later Friday.
Next time, Craft said he’d be evacuating as well.
“I’ve got a 400-year-old oak in my front yard, and it goes up about 40 feet up in the air. And if any one of those limbs comes down, it would be just devastating,” he said.
Evacuees returned to Glynn County on Thursday, allowing many residents to assess their home’s damage for the first time.
Some residents who stayed during the hurricane said they intend to evacuate next time, but many others said they would stick it out again.
Julia Teston said next time, she doubts she would evacuate, despite considering herself one of the lucky ones.
That outlook is not one you would expect from someone preparing to live in a hotel because her house on Lake Drive in Brunswick was destroyed by trees while she was inside during the hurricane.
“I’m one of the lucky ones, because there are people out there who can’t feed themselves,” Teston said Friday.
Hurricane Irma blew through Brunswick as a tropical storm with hurricane- force gusts that downed trees, snapped utility poles and pushed storm surge into people’s houses. The six-day evacuation for the storm was most difficult for people on fixed incomes or who couldn’t work because of it, Teston said.
Teston decided to stay for Irma. Evacuating for Hurricane Matthew became such a hassle, she said, that she didn’t want to deal with it.
But in the predawn hours of Monday morning, when trees began falling on her home, Teston had to escape.
After returning and seeing the damage, Teston described it as a total loss.
A former Florida resident, she said she’s endured numerous hurricanes, including three in one month at one point. In each case, she felt the evacuation process was handled better than in Glynn County, where she feels the re-entry process has been poorly administered.
She said the evacuation, re-entry and the over-burdened sewer system to which folks returned home should be a wake-up call to local officials that something with the process has to change.
“People knew about our re-entry issues in North Georgia,” she said. “What does that say about Glynn County?”
The county ordered a mandatory evacuation from the storm beginning Sept. 8.
Jay Wiggins, director of the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency, said Friday that Hurricane Irma offered a great illustration of why people should evacuate these storms.
“We thought one thing, and another thing happened,” Wiggins said.
As the storm shifted west, people began to get complacent, he said. But hurricanes can be unpredictable, which is why evacuations are ordered.
“I don’t like to gamble with money,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to gamble with lives … We don’t call for evacuations without reason.”
Jim Jinkins, a Brunswick resident who evacuated the storm, said safety had been his priority when he decided to leave.
“When you prioritize, it’s about safety. And we had the ability to evacuate,” he said Friday, while cleaning up debris in his yard. “We found a place, we had the means to do it. We took equipment with us, we buttoned everything up … It seemed a whole lot safer to go.”
He made the decision to evacuate at a time when the storm’s path was predicted to roll directly over St. Simons Island.
“Remember, this thing was a moving target … That was our situation when we made the decision,” he said. “When you played the odds, the odds were we were going to get hit historically hard.”
The storm was so massive that it actually ended up knocking out the power at the residence in North Carolina to which Jinkins evacuated.
“The hurricane caught up with us,” he said. “It was just kind of ironic, because you leave the coast because there’s a mandatory evacuation and you go to the mountains … I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Fortunately, he returned with his wife, Lisa, to find their home undamaged, except limbs and Spanish moss littering the yard.
“We’re so grateful,” Jinkins said. “That’s my operative word today.”
Craft said his own home experienced little damage, but his sister would be returning to find a big mess to clean up.
And Craft doesn’t plan to ride out a hurricane again.
“If it’s anything over a (Category) 1, nope. Nope,” he said. “That taught me a lesson. I’m going to get the hell out of here.”