Locals respond to hurricane
As a trained American Red Cross volunteer, Gianna White has been deployed twice in the last six years to wildfires in Canada and twice amid the aftermath of powerful Hurricane Sandy in New York City and New Jersey.
Although helping in times of crisis is not an everyday occurrence, it’s become almost second nature to the Ellijay resident. Earlier this week, she was in Augusta taking care of evacuees primarily from Savannah when nasty Hurricane Matthew slammed Georgia’s premier port city.
White was busy, but took time to speak with the Times-Courier.
“I’ve been doing sheltering,” she said of her tasks. “The first night I was in Swainsboro (below Augusta), and the following day I came up to Augusta because we opened up a shelter there. It was a school called Butler High School. And I had 481 clients scattered between two gyms.
“I worked for 48 hours straight because it was a lot of people, a lot of elderly. We have a few (who are) 95 years old, and we also have young families.”
White said she ensures her “clients” are comfortable with bedding, blankets and a pillow, and food.
“The first night we didn’t have enough cots, and the next night we supplied mattresses,” she said. “Everyone is fed in the school cafeteria, three meals a day and there are snacks.”
White said most of the clients are from the Savannah area.
“They were bused in, and now they are being bused out,” she said late Monday. “Shelters are open now in Savannah, but I’m not going there. I’m just coming back to Ellijay.”
White has volunteered with the Red Cross since 2010 when she retired from working in Florida. She has lived in Ellijay around two years.
“I felt like I needed to do something for my community,” she said. “We need to give back to our community.”
Jeffrey Putnam, interim executive director for the Augusta Area Red Cross and executive director for the Northwest Georgia Area, echoed White when he said, “It’s been busy.”
“Our sheltering operation has wound down in Augusta after housing nearly 4,000 Chatham County residents in 13 shelters here,” he said. “We also had approximately 25,000 residents that evacuated into the city, filling up all of the local hotels. Our primary focus (for Red Cross) was providing for the ones in shelters.”
Putnam said Weyland Billingsley, who has homes in Ellijay and Cartersville, is another volunteer from north Georgia.
Gilmer Fire/EMA Chief Tony Pritchett told the newspaper last week he and three members of the local swiftwater team deployed to Perry Thursday to wait for Matthew to pass over Savannah.
“We went down with GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency) Area Task Force Six for swiftwater rescue or whatever rescues were needed,” he said.
“We arrived just after the tropical storm force winds had receded and were never directly in harm’s way, and didn’t have to do any rescues.
“But as far as how bad it got, (Sunday) they went from having 112,000 people out of power, and (Monday) we’re down to 86,000 out of power.”
Pritchett, who is serving as the emergency operations center commander for Chatham County, said all available shelters around Savannah were “still quite full” at the beginning of the week.
“We’re still trying to coordinate getting the people (home) that were sheltered in Augusta for Chatham County (Savannah),” he said. “There’s a good bit of damage and a lot to be addressed. We’re pretty much working around the clock trying to help them get things restored.
“We’re also trying to address the shelter issues and get people back to their homes as soon possible – as soon as we get power restored and roadways cleared.”
Pritchett added that damage assessment teams are still searching areas that need clearing and restoration.
Tybee Island, several miles out from Savannah on the coast, set a record for storm surge, Pritchett said, with “pretty extensive damage out there.”
The Weather Channel was reporting 95 mph winds on the island.
Gilmer Fire/EMA’s Ken Ellington in a planning chief role, and Shaun Williams in a logistics chief role, were also with him from Ellijay.