ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal says his state of emergency declaration will “very likely” be expanded to include more counties now that Hurricane Irma appears to be shifting to the west.
“Once we know and see with more definitive information where the path will go, we will certainly include perhaps more of those continues in our state,” Deal said at a news conference held Friday morning at the state Capitol.
The monster storm, now a Category 4 hurricane, is barreling toward Florida and expected to reach Georgia by early next week. Thirty counties, including Echols County, are now under a declaration that comes with additional state assistance.
“The most recent trajectory models have it impacting more of Georgia than the original projections that were designed, we thought, only to hit the coastal areas of our state,” he said.
Homer Bryson, head of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, noted that the storm is still three days away from Georgia.
“The storm is still so far away. There’s so many variables associated with where the storm can go,” Bryson said, urging people not to become complacent.
Bryson said he is still mostly concerned about the threat posed to Georgia’s coast, although there is also the potential for hazardous weather farther inland in south Georgia.
A mandatory evacuation order for coastal communities goes into effect at 8 a.m. Saturday, with all four lanes of I-16 going westbound at that point. There will be seven available exits. Eastbound access will be blocked as far north as Dublin, near Macon.
“We’re not going to go out and drag someone out of their home if they don’t want to leave,” Deal said. “Likewise, we’re not going to send our emergency personnel in to rescue you when there are other people who have heeded the warning and need their help.
“So when you refuse to evacuate when a mandatory order has been issued, you have said you’re going to do it on your own,” he said. “Now, we will not not respond. We will do so as the situation dictates. But we need people to help themselves.”
Those evacuating are recommended to plan out a route, as well as a back-up route, in advance. More travel details are available at http://www.dot.ga.gov/. Drivers can also call 511 for traffic updates.
Evacuees are being encouraged to travel to north Georgia for shelter, since south Georgia shelters may need to be available for local residents.
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.