WILMINGTON ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Officials say a tornado that touched down on Wilmington Island Saturday reached speeds of 100 miles per hour for a time.
It was on the ground, apparently, just a short time, but the discussion about how people were warned may take longer.
The outside sirens were not working because of a maintenance issue that Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) says was beyond local control.
“The outdoor warning system is just one tool in your toolbox,” said Catherine Glasby, spokesperson for Chatham County. “We encourage you to go ahead and get apps for your phone. And CEMA will send you alerts. You can also monitor weather coverage on media and even get a weather radio.”
At the Savannah Yacht Club on Monday, News 3 talked to Billy Elmore who said he was at the club on Saturday when the tornado touched down. He took cover on his own.
“I believe I did get a warning from the National Weather Service on my phone about two minutes before the storm actually hit,” he said. “The wind was blowing so hard and it was raining so hard that you couldn’t hear anything.”
Because of the loud sounds, Elmore said he doubted whether he could have heard an outside siren.
Rebecca Sundquist told us she would have been able to hear on and wished they had gone off. “When the alert went off on the phone we went and huddled in the bathroom where there were no windows,” Sundquist said.
She took her four children to the bathroom and stayed there for at least 30 minutes. But she told News 3 for most of that time, she was not quite how much danger they might be in.
“I didn’t hear any sirens so I thought well maybe this (alert) was just telling me to keep our eyes open,” she said. “I would definitely prefer that the sirens were working and let us know that it was for real because the way the alert sounded it just said conditions were favorable, so that didn’t really tell me that there was actually a tornado somewhere or that there was rotation.”
Across the street, News 3 talked to Dan Lockett who said he had been watching television at the time. “There was some warning from the local news that rotation was found on the radar and that everybody should take shelter,” he said.
Lockett said he has no alerts for his phone so he’s not sure how he and his wife would have found out about the warning if their electricity had gone off.
He believes sirens are helpful in emergencies like this.
“Well I think the siren should be anywhere where there’s a lot of population,” said Lockett. “But when you hear those sirens it makes you stop and think and if they don’t work somebody needs to find out why.”
CEMA said the National Weather Service server that pushes info to the siren controller was offline for maintenance. The agency also said they weren’t notified that maintenance would be taking place.