Fleeing could be problem in Glynn

Lack of public transportation may leave some behind during evacuations

by Keith Laing, The Brunswick News

September 8, 2005

Willie Perry understands the plight of New Orleans residents who were left behind when others fled the city before the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

He is unsure what he would do if he is ever told to flee Brunswick because of a hurricane.

Perry, who lives alone at Morning Tide Apartments on Altama Avenue, has no car and no way out.

“I don’t have any transportation, and I have no family here,” he said. “I guess I’d be right there at home.”

While Perry would be home alone, he wouldn’t be alone in Brunswick in the event of a mandatory evacuation.

Wayne Rogers, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church on Albany Street, said several members of his congregation would face similar hardship in a community that is without public transportation.

“There are a lot of low-income people who would have no choice but to stay in this area and accept what comes,” he said.

As along the Gulf Coast, where thousands of people had no transportation in which to flee Katrina and no money or credit for housing if they could have escaped, getting people who are without transportation from the path of an Atlantic storm would be a difficult, if not impossible, task, said Glynn County Emergency Management Director Richard Strickland.

Strickland said those with no personal means by which to leave would be the ones who may be left behind.

“How do you provide transportation to thousands (of people) … all over the city?” he asked.

“That’s the problem with something like this. (Doing) that would require some form of public transportation, and we don’t have that.”

Strickland said the county has an emergency shelter 53 miles away in Waycross and an agreement with the Glynn County Board of Education to provide buses for those with special medical needs, but that’s all. Everyone else would be on their own, including residents without transportation.

“It’s just like in New Orleans,” he said. “They had the Superdome, but I don’t believe the city provided transportation there. (People) had to get there pretty much on their own.”

Strickland said people without transportation should begin planning now for a quick exit from the community in the event they are ever told to leave.

“We really try to impress on people to plan during the hurricane season,” he said. “Don’t wait until the storm’s here to make evacuation plans.”

Nor would there much help, if any, in the city of Brunswick itself, where a large part of the population lives below the federal poverty line. Mayor Brad Brown said he would like to do more, but financial realities make that impossible.

“The resources it would take to have things ready make it prohibitive,” he said.

Brown said it is vital that the community be involved in assisting those who do not have the means to assist themselves in leaving.

“During (Hurricane) Floyd, we relied on churches and other civic organizations,” he said. “Churches are more cognizant of who has transportation and who doesn’t.

Government doesn’t keep track of that.”

Besides, Brown said, “there’s probably (only) a small number of people here who are without transportation.”

Other officials said even if it is just a small number of people, plans should be made to get them out, if necessary.

“It is a concern,” said Glynn County Commissioner Jerome Clark, whose district takes in the city. “I know we have (plans) to transport the handicap and the elderly, but we need to go back to the table and discuss those without transportation. This area is very different from New Orleans because there’s no public transportation system.”

Luckily for resident Perry and others like him, Clark is not alone in feeling that a more comprehensive plan is necessary.

Darlene Wymes, director of the Brunswick Multi-Purpose Center for the elderly, said the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center, which manages the agencies that provide elderly care, is exploring its options.

“Most of our people have relatives they could call, but they’re looking at this very closely because of what happened in New Orleans,” said Wymes, who sits on a steering committee created by the regional center. “They realize now that they need additional means to get people out.”

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