Hurricane Matthew, the most devastating to impact Georgia since 1979, formed as a tropical storm in the Atlantic in late September. It reached hurricane status Oct. 1 as a Category 5 and made landfall in Haiti Oct. 4 as a Category 4.
At that time, the exact path Matthew would take was not clear, but some projections had it moving just off the coast of the southeast United States, putting Florida, Coastal Georgia and the Carolinas in a “wait and see” mode.
Here is a time line of events during Bryan County’s experience with Matthew”
Oct. 4: Gov. Nathan deal issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for Bryan County and 12 others. Bryan County Schools Superintendent Paul Brooksher announced schools would be open Oct. 5.
Oct. 5: Brooksher announced schools would be closed Oct. 6 and 7. Athletic events Oct. 5-7 are cancelled, including Richmond Hill and Bryan County region softball tournament games and the Richmond Hill Middle School football homecoming game.
Oct. 5: Bryan County placed under voluntary evacuation beginning at 5 p.m.
Oct. 5: Gov. Deal calls for voluntary evacuation for all Coastal Georgia counties.
Oct. 6: Gov. Deal issues mandatory evacuation for all Coastal Georgia residents living east of I-95. The Bryan County Emergency Services command center opens at 7 a.m. Emergency Services Chief Freddy Howell calls Hurricane Matthew a “life-threatening situation” as the path of the storm is confirmed that it will not shift east away from the coast. By 7 p.m. a mandatory evacuation order is issued for all of Bryan County.
Oct. 7: A mandatory curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. is issued for Bryan County residents east of I-95 who did not evacuate. Bryan County is placed under a tornado watch until midnight and a flash flood watch until 9:45 p.m. At 5 p.m. a “shelter in place” order is issued, requiring those who stayed to remain indoors while the storm hits.
Oct. 8: A mandatory curfew is in place for residents who remained, prohibiting businesses from opening and requiring residents to stay off the roads. At 1:30 p.m. Bryan County Schools announces there will be no classes Oct. 10 or 11. At 7 p.m. Howell announces residents who evacuated can start returning after 7 a.m. on Oct. 9 but are not guaranteed access to their homes.
Oct. 10: The Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival committee announced the 2016 event, scheduled for Oct. 14-16 in J.F. Gregory Park, is cancelled. Bryan County Schools announces classes are cancelled for the rest of the week.
After Matthew hit, more than 12,000 customers of Coastal Electric Cooperative, Canoochee EMC and Georgia Power countywide were without power. By Wednesday, that number was down to about 1,200 with the vast majority — about 1,000 — in the Pembroke and Ellabell areas.
Storm debris collection began Tuesday and will be taken to the landfill on Fort McAllister Road. Congressman Buddy Carter and state Reps. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, and Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to get the process started. The agencies had originally requested the debris be left in place, but collection can proceed as long as the process is documented.
Trash collection has begun in Richmond Hill and the county, but recycling is suspended until further notice. Neither has started yet in Pembroke. The water systems in Pembroke, Richmond Hill and the county are fine, but residents on private systems are encouraged to boil tap water. A burn ban remains in place.
Howell said the experience has shown him “the heart and soul” of the community.
“There has been tremendous care and compassion among neighbors,” he said.
Howell added that he thinks more people will evacuate the next time.
“Even with the persistent warnings, many were hesitant,” he said. “But with the potential to be that bad, I think more will leave next time around.”
While the initial cleanup has progressed, Howell thinks the overall process will be lengthy.
“We’re talking weeks, if not months, to get our infrastructure back to normal,” he said. “The landscape of our community has been changed forever, but we’ll adapt.”