Bryan County Emergency Services Chief Freddy Howell said a mandatory evacuation could come as early as Saturday if Hurricane Irma remains on a path toward Bryan County and the rest of Coastal Georgia.
“People should prepare for an evacuation now just in case,” Howell said in a conference call with reporters. “We’ll know more by Friday night and if needed, we’ll put out formal instructions over the weekend.”
Gov. Nathan Deal Wednesday afternoon declared a state of emergency for Bryan, Chatham, Camden, Liberty, McIntosh and Glynn counties.
Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 as it moves through Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, is expected to be a Category 4 storm when it approaches the Florida Keys and Miami some time Sunday and into Monday. It could be lowered to a Category 3 by the time it reaches this area.
“That doesn’t give me much relief though,” Howell said. “Hurricane Matthew was barely a Category 1 and it caused quite a bit of damage.”
Howell said county officials are getting heavy equipment ready and staging it throughout the county to have a quicker response to debris cleanup.
Forecast models show the hurricane taking several different paths after it reaches Florida.
“The National Weather Service has told us it might go to the west of Florida or continue east back into the Atlantic Ocean,” Howell said. “But of all the spaghetti models, most have it hugging the coastline and heading our way.”
Just 11 months after Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on Bryan County and Coastal Georgia, local officials are monitoring Hurricane Irma and urging residents to take steps now to prepare.
Bryan County Schools Superintendent Paul Brooksher said district officials are monitoring the situation.
“We are in constant contact with emergency services,” he said. “We monitor the weather constantly.”
Brooksher said that staff, parents and students “did an excellent job last year” as classes were cancelled for six days before and after Hurricane Matthew.
“Let’s hope we don’t have to do it again, but right now we’re eating and sleeping Hurricane Irma,” Brooksher added.
Hurricane Irma is currently a Category 5, meaning it has winds in excess of 157 mph. Matthew, by comparison, was a Category 1 when it brushed past Bryan County on Oct. 7-8 last year, meaning it had winds of between 74 and 95 mph. A Category 4 hurricane has winds of between 130 and 156 mph.
Howell had this advice should Hurricane Irma be forecast to impact our area: “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”
Howell said that was the main take-away after last October.
“If there is a chance it will impact us, the best thing to do is leave,” he said. “Have a plan in place and a place to go.”
Fire Marshal David Williams with the Richmond Hill Fire Department said city officials are meeting daily to monitor the storm.
“We’re keeping an eye on it and making preparations, such as getting our debris storage locations set in case there needs to be any debris collection,” he said. “It’s never too early for people to start planning though, making sure they have plenty of bottled water and non-perishable food items.”
The city of Richmond Hill is attempting to coordinate with neighborhood volunteers should the storm hit this area. Councilman Johnny Murphy said that after Hurricane Matthew, the efforts of residents in clearing brush and downed trees from streets helped expedite the ability of crews from Coastal Electric and Georgia Power to access power lines and restore electricity.
City residents interested in being neighborhood liaisons should contact Murphy through city hall at (912) 756-3345.
The National Weather Service recommends taking several steps well ahead of time, including reviewing the season’s forecast, understanding evacuation routes and assembling a disaster kit.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says such a kit should include enough non-perishable food, water and medicine for each person in the family to last one week. You should also include in the kit extra cash (ATM and credit card machines won’t work if the power is out), a battery-powered radio and flashlights. A portable crank or solar powered USB charger can help keep cell phones and laptops functioning.
You can also check with your insurance agent to make sure your property is fully covered. Even if you don’t live in an area of Bryan County that requires flood insurance, you can still purchase a policy through the National Flood Insurance Program. Those policies, however, require a 30-day waiting period before they become effective, meaning it is too late now to purchase one for Hurricane Irma.
If you decide to stay and ride out the storm, make sure you have the appropriate materials cut to size to board up windows and doors. And if there is a mandatory evacuation and you still choose to stay, be prepared to go it alone as emergency services personnel will not respond to calls during that time.
“If you stay and something happens, there’s no guarantee you’ll even be able to get to a hospital,” Howell said.
For residents who have functional, access or medical needs that prevent them from evacuating and have no other resources such as friends or family to help them, the Bryan County Health Department offers a registry. Those on the registry would be evacuated to an American Red Cross shelter. People living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and personal care homes are not eligible for the registry and instead should follow their facility’s evacuation plans. Call (912) 756-2611 for details.
For a timeline and photos of how Hurricane Matthew impacted Bryan County, please see: http://www.bryancountynews.com/archives/46495/