Waycross Fire Chief David Eddins (left to right, front row), Battalion Chief Jim Blackburn and Battalion Chief Jim Brown join other emergency responders and community reps Thursday at the Ware County Emergency Operations Center for an update on Hurricane Irma.

By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
Before Irma comes and goes (and has her say), Waycross could experience a snail’s pace, bumper-to-bumper storm evacuation (a la Hurricane Floyd in 1999) as citizens fleeing the killer storm from Florida and coastal Georgia pass through. North-bound evacuation traffic is, for now, concentrated mainly along Interstates 75 and 95.
Add part of Brantley County to those who are being ordered to “get out” ahead of Irma. In Brantley, evacuation has been mandated by local authorities for everyone who lives east of U.S. 301. It takes effect at 8 a.m. Saturday.
If Irma maintains her expected track straight up through the middle of the Florida pennisula, forecasters say, the Waycross area would likely be in store on Monday (give or take) for some significant winds capable of inflicting damage to property, life and limb.
“This storm has broken all records,” said Ware County Emergency Management Agency director Jonathan Daniell. “It is similar to Hurricane Matthew but has different characteristics. The path is closer (to land) than Matthew and has stronger winds. We are going to have a lot of wind.”
He predicted the area could see from 5 to 8 inches of rain out of the system.
Daniell said if the storm would jog a little to the east “that would be in our favor” but that the current path showed the storm arriving at Cape Canaveral about 2 a.m. Monday and the Jacksonville to Fernandina area at about 2 p.m. Monday with, perhaps, 120 mph winds.
The Waycross area would then likely experience the height of Irma (probably a Category 1 storm at that point) by around 6 p.m.
In all honesty, though, Irma’s direction could make an unexpected change between now and Monday. Hurricanes often behave erratically in that regard. If the (continued from page 1)
speed at which she is moving changes, Irma’s ETA would be altered, too.
For now, preparations for stormy weather are full bore for most southeast Georgians. Shortages of essentials — gasoline, bread, water, canned meats, batteries, generators — have been intermittent at local retail outlets, Daniell said, adding that he anticipates deliveries will continue to be made and store shelves to be re-stocked.
“Irma is going to be a big challenge for us,” said Daniell. “A lot of people are taking it more serious than (other storms) in the past.”
Irma has forced the closure of area schools through the early part of next week and has canceled high school football games across southeast Georgia, including tonight’s contests involving Ware County, Pierce County and Brantley County high schools. Those three non-region games will not be rescheduled.
Ware County High School has been designated as a storm shelter.
For now, the Valdosta State-Fort Valley State college game at Memorial Stadium in Waycross is still on. But the Saturday kickoff has been bumped up from 7 to 3 p.m.
Schools in Ware County, which had mid-day early release today, will be closed Monday and Tuesday, Pierce County schools are closed today and Monday and Brantley County schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday.
A large contingent of emergency rescue personnel and local officials gathered Thursday at the Ware County Emergency Operations Center to discuss Hurricane Irma’s threat to the area and how the city and county will respond. (Another meeting was set for late this morning.)
Ware Emergency Management director Daniell showed slides from the National Weather Service showing the storm’s predicted path.
He revealed the plans to use Ware High as a storm shelter with 300 cots. He planned to call for an additional 300 to 400 cots in case they are needed. Last year when Hurricane Matthew came through, about 500 people sheltered in Ware County, he said, adding that he expects more than that number with Irma.
Daniell noted that an animal and pet shelter has been set up at the Okefenokee Fairgrounds.
Daniell urged everyone in the room — which included police, sheriff’s deputies, EMTs, firefighters, city and county officials, Red Cross personnel and health care field representatives — to keep an eye out for debris on the roads and falling, as well as downed power lines, etc.
“Do not concentrate on one model or one track,” said Daniell. “Don’t get drawn into that because it will change as it moves. The coast is going to get hit hard again. And some of Matthew’s damage still has not been mitigated. So we are looking at a lot of damage.”
A major problem with the storm, Daniell said, is that it is so wide.
“This thing is 140 miles wide and that covers a lot of space,” said Daniell. “And we’re only 60 miles from Brunswick. There’s a lot of planning going on and will continue.”
Ware Schools Supterintendent Jim LeBrun announced that schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday, adding that officials would then decide about Wednesday classes.
Anyone needing to report incidents other than medical emergencies may call 287-4499 and leave 911 open for medical emergencies, Daniell said.
“The only way for this to work is that everything is run through the EOC and for nobody to go out on their own,” said Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner.
Most meetings and events planned for early next week have (or probably will be) called off or postponed. The Waycross-Ware County Chamber of Commerce has canceled its Rise and Shine breakfast event set for Tuesday at Ware County High School, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Memorial Satilla Health Rehabilitation Center set for Tuesday has been scrubbed.