A car parked on River Street in Savannah, Georgia, is surrounded by floodwater from the Savannah River on Monday after Hurricane Irma moved through. (Dash Coleman)
Life for lawyers at Savannah law firms was getting back to normal Wednesday.
The city’s largest firm, HunterMacLean, reopened after shutting down Friday in preparation for Hurricane Irma, which initial forecasts had predicted would make its way up the east coast of Florida, and then hit the Georgia coast.
While the firm was officially closed Tuesday, HunterMacLean managing partner Brad Harmon said a lot of people came by the office.
Other Savannah firms, including Oliver Maner, were also open Wednesday, as was the city’s courthouse.
As Irma approached, Gov. Nathan Deal issued a mandatory evacuation order for Savannah, but he later changed it to voluntary. Some people ended up not evacuating after all when the storm’s path shifted farther west.
Harmon said he and his family evacuated ahead of Hurricane Matthew last October, but they elected to ride out Irma in Savannah. They had planned to leave, and his wife had even made hotel reservations in Atlanta—the closest place that still had rooms available.
“Once Irma started to turn toward Atlanta, we decided to stay here,” he said, adding that thousands of people from Florida, the nation’s third-most populous state, had already evacuated to Atlanta. Some Florida evacuees also ended up in Savannah.
Harmon estimated that about 20 percent of HunterMacLean’s roughly 50 lawyers also stayed in the city.
“The flooding was worse than people expected, but there were not as many trees down as last year with Matthew,” Harmon said.
Irma’s sweep through Savannah Monday coincided with a historically high tide, causing the Savannah River and other tributaries to overflow their banks. A handful of HunterMaclean lawyers took refuge at the firm’s office downtown at 200 E. Saint Julian St.
“I got texts from them throughout the night letting me know the condition of the building,” Harmon said.
Most people who stayed in town opted to remain in their own homes, however. Harmon said his family rode it out at their Herb River Bend house, which is equipped with steel hurricane shutters.
“Ultimately, we were pretty fortunate,” Harmon said. “I was pretty worried on Wednesday when I saw the forecast. It could have been much worse. We will count our blessings.”
Danny Cohen, the team leader for Miles Mediation and Arbitration’s Savannah office, went to Atlanta last year to wait out Matthew and was planning to do the same for Irma, but first he headed up the coast to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, to close up the family beach house there. “When the storm shifted, I decided to stay,” Cohen said. Pawleys Island, like Savannah, got a lot of flooding and storm surge, he reported.
Cohen was just getting back to Savannah on Wednesday, where he lives on the Isle of Hope near the Intracoastal Waterway. He’d delayed his return until his power was back on. “It was not as bad as Hurricane Matthew. Chatham County was a disaster area after that,” he said.
Meredith Hobbs writes about the Atlanta legal community and the business of law. Contact her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @MeredithHobbs