Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! … the one word that is ringing loud and clear all over southeast Georgia today as Tropical Storm Hermine sets its path toward Georgia and Florida.
“We can’t say it strong enough. Get prepared,” said Ware County Emergency Management Agency director Jonathan Daniell.
The National Hurricane Center Wednesday issued a tropical storm watch for much of the southern half of Georgia, which could be hit by strong wind and heavy rainfall from Hermine heading into the Labor Day weekend.
The watch means tropical storm conditions are possible within 48 hours from south of Darien to St. Augustine, Fla. The watch area includes Waycross and adjoining counties.
Forecasters say Hermine is expected to become a hurricane by the time it makes landfall on Florida’s panhandle coast tonight or early Friday.
As of 5 a.m. EDT today, Hermine was centered about 275 miles west-southwest of Tampa and was moving north-northeast near 12 mph. Hermine’s maximum sustained winds were at about 60 mph.
Daniell has a strong message for everyone in southeast Georgia — clean up your patio furniture, secure all items that could be thrown through a window, buckle down anything outside that cannot be moved inside, get a supply of water, edible canned goods, park the car and shut the front door.
“We are going to be on the eastern side of this storm which is worse for us,” said Daniell. “We will have tropical force winds, heavy rains and the possibility of tornadoes. If you don’t have to be on the road, then don’t be on the road. Stay inside and out of danger.”
Daniell said the likelihood of lengthy power outages is a strong possibility and he urges everyone to lay in a supply of foods that can be eaten without cooking, along with a supply of water to drink and to use for flushing toilets.
Schools in Atkinson County will definitely be closed Friday, Daniell said, as officials there have already made that announcement. No other school systems have announced plans to cancel classes, but all of the schools in the region are studying the situation and were to make announcements later today, Daniell said.
“We will most likely get from 3 to 5 inches of rain or greater and will experience sustained winds of 39 mph and greater, up to 70 mph with stronger gusts,” Daniell said. “And the possibility of tornadoes is worrisome.”
He urges everyone to have their cell phones charged and be prepared to stay in one place for several days.
“If you stay off the road, that’s one less accident for us to have to worry about,” said Daniell. “Let’s all help look out for our neighbors. And check on any elderly folks you may know who live alone.”
A tropical storm warning was expanded today to include a section of the east coast covering an area that extends from Marineland, Fla., northward to the South Santee River in South Carolina.
A hurricane warning was already in effect for a section of Florida’s Gulf coast from the Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for other sections of Florida’s Gulf coast.
The National Park Service said it plans to close Cumberland Island to visitors this afternoon. Popular with campers and nature lovers, the island and its roughly 15 square miles of federally protected wilderness are scheduled to reopen Saturday morning unless there’s significant storm damage, the park service said in a news release.
The hurricane center says coastal Georgia could get 4 to 7 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches possible in some areas.