Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tropical storm-battered Fort Pulaski mops up, aims for reopening by next weekend

Sandstone pier prepared for placement of bridge (NPS photos)

Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Ga., has again rolled with Mother Nature’s punches, this time from the mess left by Tropical Storm Irma.

The park closed on Sept. 6 as forecasters included Savannah as possibly in the path of the then-hurricane. But the path shifted, and the area had to deal more with flooding than sustained high winds.

“This is our third natural disaster in less than a year and it certainly has taken its toll on the park. Part of the reason why we may not open as quickly as people would like is … we are still dealing with after effects of (Hurricane) Matthew and the tornado (in May),” said Joel Cadoff, park spokesman and chief of interpretation.

The park hopes to reopen by September 30 in time for volunteer work and debris removal on National Public Lands Day.

Crews will pump remaining water in fort demi-bastion
The scene a day after Irma pushed through

Cockspur Island recorded a tidal surge of 12.24 feet during Irma, the second-highest on record. And while Irma caused extensive temporary flooding in the dike system of the fort, and to a lesser degree in the park maintenance shop, the famous brick fort that fell to a Federal siege in April 1862 fared much better than it did during Matthew, nearly a year ago.

“The fort actually made out quite well. The floors are in good shape. The only real visible damage is the roof of the veranda on the inside,” said Cadoff. Crews will need to pump standing water from the fort’s flooded southwest demi-bastion.

Park staff was glad that the site lost fewer trees than during the previous calamities.

A bridge was shoved against wall of visitor center

Two wooden foot bridges that lead from the visitor center to the fort interior were again washed away. But the paths they took this time showed how capricious storm surge can be.

“With the wave action and flooding, the demilune bridge wound up lodged against the visitor center steps. In Matthew, that bridge we couldn’t find for several months later until Google maps updated their satellite imagery.”

The sally port bridge, closest to the fort entrance, floated just several yards away during Matthew, lodging on an earthen mound. “This time, it floated north, escaped the clutches of the demilune and we found it almost 400 yards away, near the entrance gate to our parking area.”

Metal parts of wooden doors are treated
Lighthouse lost only a single pane of glass

Bridges have been set back into place. “We are looking at different means to try to anchor the bridges for whenever the next flooding event occurs,” said Cadoff.

The park’s visitor center has been closed since the tornado in late May. It is undergoing ceiling, roof and other repairs.

Pulaski got a bit of a break, compared to Matthew, because of a few less inches of storm surge and less rainfall. A wind gust was recorded at 70 mph, below Matthew’s top speeds.

Ahead of Irma’s arrival, staff raised items of importance from the floor of the fort and maintenance shop.

Matthew’s damage was estimated at $1.8 million. There’s no numbers yet for Irma. “We were … much more prepared this go-around,” said Cadoff.

Maintenance shop had some wall damage from high water. (NPS)

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