SAVANNAH, Ga. — Life along Georgia’s coast continued its slow return to normal after Hurricane Matthew, though authorities advised patience as power is restored, trees are cleared and roads are reopened.
In Savannah, there were plenty of signs of recovery Monday morning, two days after the storm struck.
Some traffic signals were back online at busy intersections. And a growing number of gas stations and grocery stores were reopening.
Roadblocks keeping evacuated residents from returning to Savannah and neighboring Tybee Island had been lifted.
Still, local officials were pleading with people to be patient and remain extra cautious, saying a full recovery was still far away. Fallen trees and downed power lines still blocked many roads. Others remained flooded.
Many intersections still had traffic signals blacked out.
“You may not be able to get to your homes,” Lee Smith, county manager for Chatham County, said at a Monday news conference.
“There may not be grocery stores open in your area,” he said. “This is a long process — not days, but weeks or months.”
Crews from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were arriving Monday to assess the damage and determine whether it’s severe enough to warrant a federal disaster declaration for the Savannah area. That would free up funding to help residents repair and rebuild, said Dennis Jones, emergency management director for Chatham County.
About 115,000 customers remained without power in southeast Georgia and along the coast, utility companies said. Georgia Power reported about 93,000 of its customers remained without power Monday night. Separately, the state’s electric membership cooperatives said Monday evening that about 22,000 of its customers were without power.
Whether or not they had electricity, most Savannah-area residents had safe drinking water and working sewer service, county officials said.
On Tybee Island, employees of several surf shops and restaurants on Butler Avenue busily removed plywood from windows and piled sandbags into trucks.
Tybee Island resident Tess Winchester returned in relief to her beachfront home after finding power back on at her home and job at Benny’s Tybee Tavern.
Winchester left her hotel in Savannah about 7 a.m. Monday and cruised through a checkpoint at Highway 80, where law enforcement asked for proof of residency. Members of the National Guard and Georgia State Patrol were stationed Monday morning on the road to the island, checking IDs to ensure that only residents are returning.
Despite the stress of worrying about Hurricane Matthew’s effects on the island and friends who stayed behind, Winchester said she felt blessed.
“I haven’t taken a vacation in six years,” Winchester said, standing behind the bar juggling calls from suppliers and visits from other returning locals. “But it’s time to get back to work.”
Marianne Fahey, 60, says she’s still feeling “stunned” at the damage the storm left behind on Tybee Island.
Fahey left the island early last week to stay with friends in Savannah and returned Sunday afternoon to find an oak tree had uprooted and fallen into her one-story house.
“It feels so overwhelming,” Fahey said. “We’re just so thankful everybody’s OK. A house, you can fix. Everybody’s safe and that’s what really counts.”