‘Beryl’ Depresses Memorial Day Swimmers on Coasts of Florida, Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – The remains of Tropical Storm Beryl soaked beach vacations and some Memorial Day remembrance services in southern Georgia and northern Florida on Monday and knocked out power to tens of thousands, though emergency officials said it hasn’t brought any major damage.

The storm made landfall just after midnight Monday near Jacksonville Beach in Florida with near-hurricane-strength winds of 70 mph (113 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center. Sustained winds had died down to about 35 mph (55 kph), leading forecasters to downgrade the storm to a tropical depression and cancel all warnings and watches less than 11 hours after it made land.

Joyce Connolly, of Hurricane, W.Va., a doctor of theology, came to Jacksonville Beach for the holiday and the Jacksonville Theological Seminary’s graduation. Connolly said she and her daughters had watched the weather forecasts about Beryl, but thought they would be OK.

“It definitely changed our vacation to unfortunate circumstances that we’re not happy with, but you just have to live with it,” Connolly said. On Sunday, she said they “actually walked over here on the little walkway, the boardwalk, and the wind was just too bad.”

Bands of rain sprayed Georgia’s 100-mile coast, where veterans groups braved the weather as they marched ahead with traditional graveside observances for Memorial Day. At Savannah’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery, where a plot reserved for veterans had small American flags at each tombstone, the downpour paused just as a crowd of about 100 starting arriving.

“When we were setting up, I had a different shirt on and I got soaked to the skin. My socks and my underwear probably are, too,” said Jim Grismer, commander of American Legion Post 135 in Savannah. “I had so many people trying to talk me into moving it inside. But I said then you can’t have the live firing salute and the flag raising.”

Robert Schulz, an 80-year-old former Marine who served in the Korean War, held a folded umbrella in one hand as he saluted with the other during the service. Schulz said he and his wife briefly considered skipping the ceremony for the first time in 10 years.

“I said it would be terrible if nobody showed up,” Barbara Schulz said. “We had to come for our veterans.”

Except for ruining holiday plans, the rain was welcome on the Georgia coast, which has been parched by persistent drought. In McIntosh County south of Savannah, emergency management chief Ray Parker said a few roadways had been flooded for a brief time but the ground was quickly soaking up the 1 to 2 inches of rainfall that had fallen so far.

“We’ve needed it for a long time,” said Parker, who said the worst damage in his county had been caused by trees falling on two homes overnight. “We were lucky that we didn’t get 3 to 4 inches in 30 minutes. Most of it soaked right in before it had a chance to run off. It fell on an empty sponge.”

A frontal system coming south from the Great Lakes is expected to push weakened Beryl into the Atlantic Ocean later in the week. Georgia Power reported about 2,900 people were without power Monday morning. Jacksonville city officials say 20,000 were without power and bus service was canceled because of so many flooded roads, downed power lines and trees.

Streets in Jacksonville Beach were unusually vacant. Bands of blinding rain alternated with dry conditions.

Taylor Anderson, captain of Jacksonville Beaches’ American Red Cross Volunteer Lifesaving Corps, said he was coordinating safety procedures with local government officials. The beach was closed, but before it was on Sunday, lifeguards over and over again had to warn people to get out of the water, he said.

“Now that the storm’s finally onshore and people can see that it’s so dangerous and the winds and the current are up, people are lot more hesitant to go in, more so than yesterday,” Anderson said.

The weather system also would likely complicate things for returning holiday travelers, some of whom had to scrap their beach and camping trips early because of the weather. Cumberland Island National Seashore off the Georgia coast will be closed at least through Tuesday and park Superintendent Fred Boyles said campers were asked to leave the area Sunday. He said the park does not seem to have serious damage.

In northeast Florida, several Memorial Day events were canceled, including one honoring veterans at the St. Augustine National Cemetery and a parade in Palatka.

“I don’t mean to sound mushy, but today is Memorial Day and I hate that it ruined some plans,” said Glynn County, Ga., emergency management director Jay Wiggins. “But that’s just the nature of the weather.” His county between Savannah and Jacksonville also had some downed trees and power outages, but there the rain is also welcome.

“I know it had a lot of folks worried, but it certainly will help us,” he said.

Beryl was expected to bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to parts, with some areas getting as much as a foot. Forecasters said the storm surge and high tide could bring 2 to 4 feet of flooding in northeastern Florida and Georgia, and 1 to 2 feet in southern South Carolina.

Officials reported no serious injuries, but the Coast Guard said crews in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina rescued three people and a dog from a sinking recreational vessel late Sunday morning.