Hurricane Irma first caught the attention of Bryan County and Coastal Georgia on Aug. 31 as it formed in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean.
It approached several Caribbean islands as a Category 5 storm early last week, and several projections showed it turning north along the eastern coast of Florida and making landfall in the Savannah area as a Category 4 storm at the least.
Hurricane Matthew, as a comparison, which caused major damage across Bryan County and the surrounding area last October, was a weak Category 1 storm, meaning it had winds of between 74 and 95 mph.
As Irma crept closer to the Florida Keys, its path continued to shift to the northwest, eventually crossing over the panhandle of Florida and heading past Albany, Ga., and into Alabama. Its winds and rain hit Bryan County with tropical storm force, with gusts of 50 mph and several inches of rain.
Sept. 7: Gov. Nathan Deal issues a mandatory evacuation beginning at 8 a.m. on Sept. 9 for all Georgia residents living east of I-95.
Bryan County Schools Superintendent Paul Brooksher announces that classes would be canceled Sept. 8, 11 and 12 due to the evacuation order. All extracurricular activities during the closure also are canceled, including Bryan County’s football game against McIntosh County Academy and Richmond Hill’s game against Pierce County.
Bryan County and the cities of Richmond Hill and Pembroke announce their offices would be closed Sept. 11 and 12. Trash and recycling collection for Richmond Hill and the unincorporated portion of Bryan County was suspended until further notice. The Bryan County United Way kick off, originally scheduled for Sept. 14, was postponed until further notice, and 9/11 ceremonies planned by the Richmond Hill Fire Department and Bryan County Emergency Services were put on hold.
Sept. 8: The city of Pembroke announces it would not issue a mandatory or voluntary evacuation, but encourages residents who felt unsafe to make travel arrangements.
Sept. 9: Contraflow in I-16 begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.
The county, Richmond Hill and Pembroke announce they have no plans to shut off municipal water systems during the storm, although several privately owned water systems said they could turn off water to avoid contamination from waste water if power went out.
Bryan County Emergency Services opens its emergency operations center in Ellabell and its mobile command center at the main Richmond Hill Fire Department.
Sept. 10: Richmond Hill issues a curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Sept. 11: Bryan County is placed under a tornado watch until 11 a.m., with up to 10 inches of rain expected and storm surges of three to six feet as Hurricane Irma reaches the area. Reports of flooding come in for Mill Hill, Mulberry, Piercefield, Oxford, Strathy Hall, The Cove, Creekside Main Street, Timber Trail, Port Royal and Highway 144 near Publix.
Brooksher announces Bryan County Schools will also be closed Sept. 13 so that the district can assess any damage and to give evacuees time to return home.
Due to flooding, the county announces the Tivoli River Bridge on Belfast Keller Road would be closed until further notice until it can be inspected as per GDOT regulations.
More than 16,000 customers are reported without power after the storm passes.
The mandatory evacuation remains in place and officials ask that those who stayed behind stay off the roads to give first responders and utility crews easier and faster access to problem areas.
Sept. 12: Gov. Deal says the mandatory evacuation order remains in place, but that local municipalities can allow re-entry. Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler and County Commissioners Chair Carter Infinger say at 11 a.m. that residents may return to all of South Bryan County.
Brooksher announces that classes will resume Sept. 14.
The Bryan County Board of Commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting set for 5:30 p.m. in Pembroke is postponed until further notice.
The city of Richmond Hill announces trash and recycling collection will resume as normal on Sept. 13 and that yard debris should be placed curbside. Bryan County announces trash collection will resume on a limited basis and that residents may use recycling bins for additional waste.
More photos can be found at: http://www.bryancountynews.com/irma//
A similar timeline and photos from Hurricane Matthew can be found at: http://www.bryancountynews.com/archives/46495/.