With Hurricane Irene heading up a path alongside the southeast coast, Bryan County officials are urging residents to be prepared and be watchful – even if projections say the storm should bypass Georgia.
Irene was aimed toward the Bahamas on Tuesday afternoon with expectations of strengthening to a Category 3, with winds of up to 125 mph, and making landfall sometime Saturday between Wilmington and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.
“We’re still monitoring the system closely and will be prepared if anything changes,” Bill Collins, deputy director of the Bryan County Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday afternoon. “The storm looks better for us, but people still need to watch it because it could be a Category 3 or 4, which is very strong. So if it takes a turn (to the west), it could be very critical for us.”
Collins noted that the hurricane had yet to make its anticipated turn toward the east that would put it on the forecast path toward North Carolina.
“We will see minimal effect – if the storm stays on track,” he said. “As the forecast has it now, we could get 25- to 30-mph winds, mostly in Richmond Hill since it’s closer to the coast. (The storm) is expected to be 150-200 miles off the coast of Bryan County very early Saturday morning, around 2 or 3 a.m.”
Collins said if Irene stays on track, the area may see some rain, but not as much as expected earlier in the week.
He said EMA is operating at “OPCOM 4,” which means a management team is checking and reviewing all emergency equipment and plans. Even though the storm might not be heading for Georgia, it’s still a good time to make sure everything is in order.
And that goes for residents, too, he said, noting that now – rather than in the middle of an evacuation – is the time to review hurricane plans and supplies. Tips for hurricane preparedness can be found at www.bryancoemergencyservices.org.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Collins said. “Right now, the message to Bryan County citizens is be prepared and be watchful.”
Irene was forecast to pass over or near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by Tuesday night and be near the central Bahamas early Wednesday.
In South Carolina, emergency agencies went on alert for what could be the first hurricane to hit there in seven years.
Officials on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island – where Irene appeared to be taking dead aim as of Tuesday – were taking no chances. Tourists were ordered to evacuate Wednesday, while residents were told to be off the island by Thursday.
It’s been more than a century since Georgia has taken a direct hit from a Category 3 storm or greater. That was in 1893. The last hurricane to make landfall along the state’s 100-mile coast was David, which caused only minor damage when it struck in 1979.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.