Homeless man misses evacuation bus, struggles to find shelter after Irma

Michael Willbaaks uses a FOX 28 cellphone to contact CEMA in search of shelter (Photo: Ian Dembling)

Over the weekend leading up to Hurricane Irma, Chatham County Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) set up an evacuation option so thousands in the county could have an opportunity to leave the area ahead of the storm.

Michael Willbaaks says he was five minutes late to catch the bus.

"And, I said 'Hey, I just got here, I was supposed to get on the bus. It's a mandatory evacuation.' [A CEMA official] looks at me and says, 'Well, what do you want me to do?' Willbaaks said.

Willbaaks says the man refused to call and ask one of the buses to stop for him, despite Willbaaks waving his ticket in front of the bus drivers as they passed.

"He looked at me and said, 'Well, you should have been a little bit earlier, huh?'" Willbaaks said.

Willbaaks took shelter along with about 15 others at the Savannah Civic Center since he is homeless. But, he was forced out of that shelter around 6 a.m. Tuesday.

He says when he returned to his campsite, it was flooded and all his belongings were destroyed.

"I'm scared, I'm confused, I'm hoping someone will be able to help me," he said.

On Tuesday, FOX 28 introduced Willbaaks to the director of the evacuation center, Jeannie Alday.

At a press conference Tuesday, Alday said many homeless individuals did take advantage of earlier evacuation options.

"We did all we could to get the word to the homeless camps. They knew they could get this evacuation. We were aware that many did take advantage of that," she said.

When introduced to Alday, she gave Willbaaks the help number for the county, 912-201-4500.

"Let me get you a phone number to call for CEMA so they can get you in a shelter, okay?"

When Willbaaks called that number, he said he was given two other numbers--one for a church that closed thanks to Hurricane Irma, and another was the 1-800-number for the American Red Cross.

After Mayor Eddie Deloach saw FOX 28 assisting Willbaaks, he asked CEMA to come up with a plan.

They gave Willbaaks the option to travel to Groves High School and seek shelter with those who evacuated and came home to home damage.

"At least tonight, I'll have a place to sleep. Thanks to FOX 28, I'm here. They helped me and gave me advice and I thank you for that," said Willbaaks.