Break-in Rates Triple and Quadruple
Sept. 17, 1999
By Hans H. Chen
|The deserted streets of downtown Savannah
SAVANNAH, Ga. (APBnews.com) -- When Savannah residents abandoned their gracious antebellum mansions under swaying boughs of Spanish moss Tuesday, they did so with the fear of Hurricane Floyd in their hearts.
But upon their return today, several Savannah residents discovered that the true danger lay not in Mother Nature but in fellow man.
Thieves took advantage of the mandatory evacuation order announced Monday to break into more than 50 homes in Savannah, police said. The Chatham County police reported another 19 burglaries in unincorporated areas surrounding Savannah.
Residents made it easy
Police said that's a rate three to four times higher than normal for a 48-hour period in the area.
"I'm sure they're going to increase as people continue to return home," said Cpl. Scott Simpkins, a spokesman for the Chatham County Police Department. "Hopefully they won't. Nineteen's enough."
The burglaries took place despite round-the-clock patrols by police officers from both Savannah and Chatham County working 12-hour shifts, but in some cases, residents made burglaries all too easy, police said.
"Not all of them were forcible entry," Simpkins said. "One lady left her garage door open, and the reason was that she was afraid there wasn't going to be any electricity when she returned."
Troops patrolled business area
Although troops from the Georgia National Guard began patrolling shopping centers and the city's central business area after the storm passed Thursday, they did not patrol the city or county while it was evacuated.
"Our primary role was security yesterday when people were coming back in," said Lt. Col. Jim Driscoll, a spokesman for the Georgia National Guard. "We ended up seeing only limited deployment."
In Myrtle Beach, S.C., police reported that they arrested 17 people Tuesday night for violating the 10 p.m. curfew. Several of the suspects were arrested lurking about the downtown business area.
"In some cases, we got them before they got to the point of doing something they weren't supposed to," said Mark Kruea, a city spokesman.
Robbers could be neighbors
In Wilmington, N.C., police restricted beach access only to returning drivers with the proper residency stickers on their cars. Although authorities called the measure a traffic-control issue, limiting access to evacuated areas also may have prevented burglaries.
"I wouldn't say it's to keep burglars out," said Kelly Strickland, an official with Wrightsville Beach, a community east of Wilmington. "It's more or less to keep people out who want to gawk or sightsee."
Police in Savannah, however, had a more difficult task in keeping homes safe. The police prevented re-entry into the city by allowing traffic on the interstates only to drive outbound. But many Savannah residents ignored the evacuation and stayed home.
"It could have been next-door neighbors," Simpkins said. "Who knows, the burglars could have been somebody that didn't go out."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.