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Irma evacuation decision not an easy one for Bryan County residents

POSTED: September 10, 2017 4:43 p.m.

Should I stay or should I go?

It's not just the words of a song, but was a dilemma many Bryan County and coastal Georgia residents faced in determining whether they should evacuate in the wake of Irma, or stay put.

With the full impact of Irma expected within the next 12-24 hours, those who either fled to the west or northwest or stayed at home are hopefully content with their decision, and are putting their worst fears behind.

After all, Bryan County was originally in the path of a possible Category 3 hurricane, which seemed to make any trip inland -- despite the inconvenience -- a no-brainer.  But as the path continued to waver to the west, and the intensity of the storm decreased, residents had to seriously weigh the pros and cons of leaving. 

And now, with some areas in central and western Georgia expected to see as much rain and wind as Bryan County, are those who evacuated regretting their decision?

"Not sure I feel any safer in Macon than I would have been in Richmond Hill ... maybe getting away from flooding, I suppose," wrote Colleen Fullerton on the Bryan County News Facebook page.

Another local resident who originally planned to evacuate, but changed her mind, said this on Facebook:

"Called to cancel my hotel in Atlanta when (the) storm shifted and I decided to stay," said Teresa Cowart. "Still sitting in my home with food, electricity, a generator ready and no immediate major concerns compared to so many poor folks in Florida with such uncertain futures."

For former Bryan County resident Erica Palmisano, who now lives in downtown Savannah, it was a week of uncertainty that had her drive up the East Coast, back to Savannah, and then contemplate whether to leave for Atlanta.

She explained that when Irma formed more than a week ago far out in the Atlantic, she left with her parents to spend the week on the Delaware beaches. "As the week went on, the forecasts got scarier and scarier and we ended up making the decision late Wednesday night to drive the 10 hours back to Savannah," Palmisano said. "I have four cats and am a newbie at this hurricane deal so we felt better getting back before an evacuation was ordered."

She continued, "We rolled into town late Thursday evening only to get the news that Irma was shifting west. My parents, having no hurricane prep experience at all, helped me get my house together and then hopped back in their car to drive back to Atlanta. The normal three and a half hour drive took them five hours and I decided to wait until Friday morning to make a decision on whether I would leave.

"The forecast kept saying Irma was shifting west so I pushed my evacuation decision to Saturday when eventually the mandatory evacuation order was lifted for my zone." Palmisano said she is still in town, "hunkering down in case the weather does get bad and joking with my family in Atlanta about how they will be evacuating to Savannah soon."

For those who hit the road the last three days, getting to their destination was a mixed bag.

"Left at 2.30 a.m. on Friday to drive up to Ohio. Took me about 13 hours to get there with two kids and two dogs in the back," wrote one local resident on Facebook.

Another resident added, "Not interesting ... just difficult," of her experience. "17 hours from Richmond Hill to Williamsburg, Virginia," she said.

"Left at 8:30 a.m. this morning," wrote another on Facebook. "I-16 was vacant. Just got to north Georgia mountains. Very peaceful and serene. Praying my house does not flood again."

And for those not relegated to a hotel on the road, the evacuation order gave some a chance to visit with family and enjoy certain events. 

"We evacuated to Cincinnati, which we are calling our 'hurrication'," wrote Richmond Hill resident Drew Humphreys. "We found ourselves at a festival outside of Cincinnati and did a Family Mud Run. Good times!."

See related story -- Evacuation stories Part 2: Family reunion here

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