Residents in St. Marys, Georgia's southernmost coastal city, were weighing whether to flee or stay Monday as Hurricane Dorian slowly moved toward Florida, potentially reaching Georgia by Wednesday.
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From furniture salesmen to tow truck drivers, businesses owners in this city of 18,000 people spent the early hours of their muggy Labor Day preparing their storefronts with sandbags and plywood.
Georgia coastal residents east of Interstate 95 are under evacuation orders as of noon Monday, but as of late morning, people here were still trying to figure out the risks of staying at least a while longer.
The storm’s path has been confounding forecasters and regular folks alike as Dorian creeps up the coast. On Monday, the storm was downgraded to a Category 4 from a Category 5 hurricane.
C.B. Yadav owns several businesses in Camden County, including Cumberland Inn and Suites in St. Marys. His employees were boarding up the hotel’s large front windows about 10:30 a.m. Monday.
This is the third time the boards have been used ahead of a hurricane. Just one of those storms, Yadav said, did a half-million dollars of damage to the Cumberland Inn’s roof.
The parking lot of the Lowe’s near the city’s waterfront downtown was starting to fill a couple of hours before the mandatory noon evacuation.
Yadav said about 80% of his employees are gone, most evacuating Monday.
“They don’t want to wait until the last minute,” he said.
Yadav has four hotels with a total of about 300 rooms in Camden County. Almost all will be empty due to storm-related cancellations during the busy Labor Day weekend. He estimates that’ll amount to between $30,000 to $40,000 of losses.
Yadav, 42, said his wife and their two children (ages 9 and 5) are heading to Atlanta, as did for the last couple of hurricanes, so he can focus on his businesses.
“It’s scary,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Yadav said he has between 20 and 25 people in the hotel, a mix of employees and emergency workers there for the storm, staying for free. The hotel has 107 rooms.
Nuclear submarine base also on coast
Along with 53,000 residents, Camden County is also home to seven nuclear submarines at U.S. Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
When asked if the submarines had been moved out to sea for safety, base spokesman Scott Bassett said Monday he wouldn’t discuss the movements of the vessels, but said they are all “safe and secure.”
The base is east of Interstate 95, which puts it in the governor's mandated evacuation zone.
Bassett said about 400 of Kings Bay’s 9,000 staff are staying behind because they are considered “essential personnel,” in roles like security and fire safety.
The Navy will cover lodging, gas and give a per diem for the rest of the staff and their families to evacuate, as long as they go within 150 miles of Atlanta, Bassett said.
Similar base evacuations happened during hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
During those storms, he said the base never lost power and didn’t flood, but did get minimal damage to roofs and some floating piers.
Bassett wouldn't take a bet at what Dorian was going to do to the base.