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Most Important Local News Story of the Past Year 

Hurricane Matthew

The most damaging hurricane to hit Savannah since the devastating hurricanes of the 1890s was the no-brainer choice here. And like those nameless storms, the massive hit to the local tree canopy in October 2016 from Matthew was truly jaw-dropping. A single death was attributed to the storm, Jeff Davis of Isle of Hope.

The storm, literally unprecedented in local memory, showed the kinks in the local emergency response protocol, as various confusing evacuation orders were given, sometimes not only at odds with each other but at odds with the Gov. Deal’s own pronouncements.

The bumbling, self-congratulatory press conferences of local officials, along with Gov. Deal’s lethargy and aloofness, was a stark contrast with the crisp professionalism of Gov. Nikki Haley in South Carolina. People flipping channels between the two states emergency response efforts noticed the difference in competence and sense of urgency, and they talked about it.

A decision to bar re-entry to evacuees for several days – even as Visit Savannah was touting downtown hotels to tourists as being open for business – also rankled citizens who felt penalized for doing the right thing and leaving town.

The biggest heroes of the storm turned out to be the dozens of utility crews, which restored power more quickly than most expected, resulting in what is essentially a complete new system of power lines in much of Chatham County.

But those storms of the 19th century had a silver lining: They prompted the replanting en masse of Savannah’s leveled tree canopy, largely resulting in the beautiful canopy we enjoy today and which underpins so much of our tourist draw. Unfortunately it’s hard to make the case that we have been as diligent about taking care of our tree canopy in Matthew’s wake, over a century later. – Jim Morekis

Runner-up: Tony Thomas Shenanigans

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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