Evacuation traffic from the south and east will become heavier here, a run on storm prep commodities has already occurred and school class schedules as well as high school football games have been affected.
That’s what Hurricane Matthew has wrought in the Waycross-southeast Georgia area … and it hasn’t arrived yet.
The storm’s effects are likely to be felt here Friday and, to a lesser degree, Saturday.
“We need to be prepared now! If you have not purchased what you need by now, you may have waited too long,” said Ware County Emergency Management Agency director Jonathan Daniell. “I understand last night that most of the shelves in the stores were bare.”
Daniell said it’s anticipated that the weather here Friday will be similar to that of Tropical Storm Hermine (which affected the area on Sept. 2 with 50 mph winds that gusted to as much 70 mph).
“We will be getting rain bands and strong gusts beginning about noon Friday,” Daniell said.
Although Ware County is 60 miles inland from the Atlantic, Daniell said Ware will experience strong winds, even stronger gusts, torrential rain, the potential for falling trees and tree limbs and power outages that could last for several days.
Daniell said that should power outages occur here, restoration service might be slower than it was on Sept. 2-3 because personnel will be stretched thin. Crews are bound to be busier east of here.
“People will need to be patient because it is going to take longer to get your power back on after this one,” Daniell said. “These power companies will be concentrating on the coastal areas. They will be working here, too, but it is just going to take longer.”
Local residents who feel they might be unsafe in their homes should make the decision now to seek alternative quarters, he said, as they could be in for a “harsh realization” if they remain at home and the storm hits them hard. Ambulances cannot roll, he said, in conditions of winds at 45 mph.
“You need to make your move now. Get the things you need, get settled in a safe structure and be ready to ride out the storm,” said Daniell. “This thing is going to last at least 24 hours.”
A shelter for anyone living in a mobile home or who believes they need a safer place has been established at Waycross Middle School and will open at 6 p.m. today, said Daniell. Evacuees from Florida might also hunker down there, though most of them will drive through and continue northward and westward.
Daniell said all the motel rooms in Waycross have been booked and “not one” is available.
Daniell said people evacuating from Florida and coastal Georgia are being directed to continue west to Tifton or Valdosta.
“I believe we are going to get some rough weather,” said Daniell. “Please stay off the roads once this storm makes its presence known. The road is not a safe place to be.”
Schools in the region will be closed Friday (most of them planned the early release of students today), and football games have been canceled or postponed. The East Lake-Ware County game has been scrubbed (it will not be rescheduled). The Pierce County-at-Brantley County game has been moved to Monday at 6:30 p.m.
Many local events on the weekend calendar have been called off, though at last word the Okefenokee Swamp Park’s 70th anniversary celebration on Saturday was still on. Martin Bell, park manager, said a decision would probably be made early this afternoon.
Daniell said that Gov. Nathan Deal added Ware County to the list of counties in a declared state of emergency, and Ware County Chairman Jimmy Brown has declared a local state of emergency for Ware County.
Daniell urges everyone to make sure they have secured all of their outdoor furniture and any item that “could become a missile” in a strong wind gust.
Ware County EMA has set up an information line at 287-4499 that will be available to anyone needing information. He noted that 911 will likely be inundated with calls from people just wanting information. He encourages them to leave 911 for actual emergencies and call the help line (287-4499) for information.