Friday, June 30, 2017

Fort Pulaski reopens: Savannah-area site weathered hurricane, and then a tornado

One of the torn and smashed signs that were sent flying (NPS)

Barely two months after Fort Pulaski National Monument returned to full operations following Hurricane Matthew, another storm system came calling on May 23. This time, it was an EF-2 tornado coming from the west, at about 6 p.m.

“If we are talking an hour earlier, I don’t want to think about what could have happened,” said Joel Cadoff, park spokesman and chief of interpretation. Before 5 p.m., people were still in the fort, on trails or in the visitor’s center at the site, which is a dozen miles east of Savannah, Ga.

Two employees hid in this demilune during tornado (NPS)

The twister sent two staffers to shelter in Pulaski’s demilune, an earthen fortification between the fort’s main walls and the moat. A couple of personal vehicles were lost.

And while it did not cause near the damage as Matthew, the storm slammed a “vulnerable place” – the visitor’s center complex. The building suffered extensive roof and ceiling damage. The restroom roof was destroyed (it is still in service). Several historic signs were ripped from their posts and sent flying, one piece landing 1,000 feet away. Trails were temporarily closed.

The park staff – with considerable outside help from other National Park Service entities – toiled to patch things up, clear paths and make the site again safe. The monument reopened on Thursday, about six weeks after the latest weather calamity.

(NPS photos)

Until the visitor’s center can be repaired, the staff and bookstore are operating out of a casemate inside the fort.

“It’s interesting,” Cadoff said in a bit of understatement about two events coming so close together. Matthew caused an estimated $1.8 million in damage and forced a six-month recovery. The tornado’s bill is at least $400,000 and repairs continue.

Cadoff said Fort Pulaski benefited from what it learned following Hurricane Matthew. “We were much better prepared in an initial response in getting the right people and right knowledge, to get them here to assist us,” he said.

The storms reinforced the need for good shelter points, such as the demilune. The west side of Cockspur Island has a couple World War II-era naval magazines.

Cadoff said visitors can still see some snapped and damaged trees in the marsh.  “You can definitely see the (tornado) path.”

The staff has had enough excitement for the time being. “We would love a very uneventful hurricane, weather season,” he said. 

Pieces of wood jammed by twister into trunk (NPS)

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