Hurricane Matthew Brings Out The Best in Savannah

hurricane-matthewWords cannot truly describe the beauty of Savannah, Georgia. I grew up in this peaceful little coastal city. It was founded in 1733 as the 1st city in Georgia, right along the Savannah River. Each year Savannah attracts millions of visitors to its cobblestone streets, parks, and notable historic buildings.

Savannah’s population was estimated to be 145,674 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Savannah’s downtown area, which includes the Savannah Historic District, the Savannah Victorian Historic District, and the 22 squares, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States (designated by the U.S. government in 1966). Downtown Savannah largely retains the original town plan prescribed by founder James Oglethorpe (a design now known as the Oglethorpe Plan).

Living in Savannah is like living in a fairy tale. Even Union General William Sherman thought Savannah was worth saving. On his “March to the Sea,” General Sherman burned every Southern City in his path, including Atlanta, but spared Savannah because he was so impressed with its beauty. On December 22, 1864, he sent a famous telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, offering the city as a Christmas present. Savannah is known for its picturesque coastal views and the serene live oak trees. Both make Savannah a sight worth seeing.

Since the early 19th century, Savannah planted trees in its streets and squares to provide shade in the summer and beauty the year round, earning it the title of “The Forest City.” The GoSouthSavannah website describes Savannah today with “its arching live oaks, swathed with picturesquely gothic drapes of Spanish moss, are one of the city’s most charming and typical sights.” It also states that “along with the palmetto and the magnolia, the live oak was chosen in the 1890s as one of the three species best suited to life as a Savannah street tree. In the end, it was by far the most commonly-planted species, accounting for around two-thirds of the city’s public trees. Besides being a beautiful tree, the live oak is frost-resistant and requires minimal care once established.” Savannah’s history can be tracked through the planting of the city’s trees.

The beautiful Southern scene that I know and love was turned on its head when an unwelcomed visitor named “Matthew” came to visit in the early morning hours of Saturday, October 8th, 2016. The coastal view and massive trees that make the city so beautiful were the cause of much destruction as the category two hurricane traveled just off the Georgia coast. 75% of Savannah residents evacuated the city before the storm hit. The Washington Post reported that the hurricane claimed the lives of three people in Georgia. Rain dropped over 17 ½ inches of water at Hunter Army Airfield. According to NOAA/National Ocean Service data, Matthew’s storm surge coupled with high tide led to a new record tide level of 12.57 ft MLLW (above normal low tide) at Fort Pulaski, between Savannah and Tybee Island. Savannah saw wind gusts of over 70 miles per hour while Tybee had recorded wind gust of 96 miles per hour. Roots of trees that have been around for over 300 years were weakened enough by the massive amounts of rain, wind and storm surge, causing them to fall.

In total, more than 500,000 Georgia residents lost power because of Hurricane Matthew. Georgia Power has restored power to more than 340,000 customers impacted by the hurricane. They estimate that damage from Hurricane Matthew included approximately 1,000 power poles broken or damaged, nearly 120 miles of wire needing to be replaced and more than 3,500 fallen trees causing damage to electrical equipment.

Even with all the damage that hit the coastal empire, so much beauty was still to be found after Hurricane Matthew. My parents had 2 massive oak trees fall on their house in Garden City. A friend of mine from high school, Mike Reynolds, came to help me clean my parents’ and grandparents’ yards out of the goodness of his heart. We completely cleaned my grandmother’s yard and driveway with a gas chainsaw, rakes and brooms as neither had power. Thanks again Mike; that really meant a lot.

I watched on social media as Jonathan Moody  (Calvary ℅ 2004) made a mockery of Hurricane Matthew by posting live Facebook videos while ‘reporting’ during the storm, only to raise close to $40,000 for JC Davis (widow of Jefferson Davis who was killed by a tree during the storm). His original goal of $10,000 was surpassed in just a few hours. It’s worth noting that he had never met JC when he started the GoFundMe account. Helping a total stranger is truly showing the love of Christ.

On Wednesday here at Calvary, over 100 students, staff, parents and alumni cleaned debris off the grounds. Our Headmaster, Dr. James Taylor, noted that “we had students as young as Kindergarten, scores of Middle School, tons of High School, and a bunch of graduates helping with every facet of necessary repair. The Calvary family brought their own trucks, trailers and tools–many of whom left their own damaged homes–to work together for Calvary Day School.” The Calvary family really came together after this storm. Two seniors at Calvary, Harrison Clark and Garris Thomas, told me they worked 4 straight days of cleaning debris after the storm.

The Calvary Director of Technology had a tree fall on his family’s home during Hurricane Matthew. Patrick Mulvehill sent an email to the staff that really put the feeling of family together for me. The email titled Part of The Greatest Family Anywhere said, “so many of you have been reaching out to us today, I just wanted to take a minute to let you know that we are feeling extremely loved and cared for right now. Mary Ann, the boys, and I can’t even begin to tell you how blessed we have felt the past few days even in the midst of what has happened. The good news is that we have been able to get the massive tree off the roof and thanks to an incredible team of folks that showed up this morning with chainsaws in hand, the entire beast of a tree has been cut up and moved to the street so that it can be picked up. Our backyard went from completely covered with huge tree parts and debris to actually looking like a yard again. It was overwhelming. Cameron asked Mary Ann just yesterday, “Why did God let a tree fall on our house?” After today, I think my answer has to be, “So He could show us just how much He loves us, Buddy.” This email sent on October 11th showed me that this city and school is so much more than beautiful picture.

Clean up crews from churches all over Savannah went out to the islands and throughout the city to clean up debris. The stories that surfaced were touching to see. We had linesmen from all over the country in town to help restore power. Alan and Hugh Barnes of Barnes Restaurant fed over 400 linesmen lunch per day. The outpouring of love was truly awesome to see and, for that, I am thankful for Hurricane Matthew.

Walking through Savannah is truly like walking through a picture book. “The Forest City” boasts some of the oldest houses and trees in the county, dating back to the early 1700’s. But don’t let that be the only scenery you take in while you are here: the people are pretty amazing, too.

A little more about Gordon Hunter...

Gordon Hunter received his B.S. in Public Relations from Georgia Southern University in 2008. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Sports Management. Gordon is a member of Garden City United Methodist Church and a Savannah native. He believes that all Christians are called to give: give of your talents, time and resources. Deuteronomy 16:17 “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which he has given to you.” Gordon is married to Calvary High School Physical Education teacher and Varsity Volleyball coach Hannah Hunter. They have one son, Nelson, who was born in July 2015. In his spare time he enjoys the outdoors, golf, and spending time with family.

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