Despite downgrade, Beryl still soaks Memorial Day

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Joyce Connolly and her daughters left their home in Hurricane, W.Va., to head south for a Memorial Day beach vacation — and ended up in the center of Tropical Storm Beryl.

While it left little damage after sweeping ashore with 70 mph winds around midnight Monday at Jacksonville, Fla., the storm still wrecked much of Connolly’s trip.

She skipped a graduation because powerful winds kept her and her daughters from venturing past the beach boardwalk when the storm approached Sunday. And she postponed their drive home Monday as Beryl, downgraded to a tropical depression, continued to dump rain near the Georgia-Florida state line.

“It definitely changed our vacation to unfortunate circumstances that we’re not happy with. But you just have to live with it,” said Connolly, who at least found the irony of her hometown’s name “pretty funny.”

Beach trips, backyard barbecues and graveside Memorial Day observances got a good soaking in southeastern Georgia and northern Florida.

Beach lifeguards turned swimmers away from the ocean because of dangerous rip currents from Jacksonville to Tybee Island, Georgia’s largest public beach 140 miles to the north. Skip Sasser, who oversees the island’s lifeguards as its fire chief, said beach traffic was unusually thin for a holiday.

The ocean was declared off-limits to swimmers for a second day in a row.

“It’s been raining intermittently, so it’s chased a lot of them off,” Sasser said. “There was a lot of traffic this morning heading westbound out of Tybee.”

Veterans groups, meanwhile, carried out outdoor Memorial Day ceremonies despite the grim forecast.

At Savannah’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery, American Legion members worked through a downpour to make sure its plot for veterans had a small American flag planted by each headstone.

Aside from ruining holiday plans, the rain was welcome on the Georgia coast for bringing some relief from persistent drought. According to the state climatologist’s office, as of May 1, rainfall in Savannah was 15 inches below normal for the past 12 months.

Emergency officials said minor flooding was reported near the coast, but the ground was quickly soaking up the water. And the winds had died down considerably.

“We’ve needed it for a long time,” said Ray Parker, emergency management director for coastal McIntosh County south of Savannah, who said the worst damage came 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.”

The rainfall stopped in Savannah and other northern parts of the Georgia coast Monday afternoon, but more was expected through Tuesday. A frontal system moving south from the Great Lakes is expected to cause the storm do a U-turn and push it back out to sea.

Despite gray skies and puddles among the cobblestones on Savannah’s downtown riverfront, Ruth Laino and Pat Walton waited on a park bench to board a ferry boat for an hour-long river cruise. They said only one rain burst interrupted their trip so far but they were on a covered tour trolley.

“We have our rain ponchos in our bags, so we’re prepared,” said Walton. “It could have been really nice and really hot. The breeze makes it more comfortable.”

Georgia Power reported about 2,900 coastal customers without power Monday morning, but that number dropped to 1,300 by afternoon. 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.

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

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