Despite downgrade, Beryl still soaks Memorial Day

Associated Press Modified: May 28, 2012 at 10:46 pm •  Published: May 28, 2012
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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 Sunday at Jacksonville, Fla., the storm still wrecked much of Connolly's trip. She skipped a graduation ceremony because powerful winds kept her and her daughters from venturing past the beach boardwalk when the storm approached Sunday. She also 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 — made famous by the book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" — American Legion members worked through a downpour to make sure its plot for veterans had a small American flag planted by each headstone.

"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."

The rain paused just as a crowd of about 100 people began arriving. Robert Schulz, an 80-year-old who served in the Marines 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."

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.