Weather

The Latest: Hurricane warning issued for southern Georgia

Posted September 9

— The Latest on how Southeast states are preparing for Hurricane Irma (all times local):

6:45 p.m.

The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane warning for sections of southern Georgia and a tropical storm warning for sections of Alabama and Georgia.

The warnings were issued Saturday evening as Hurricane Irma's latest track projected the storm moving up the Gulf coast of Florida before sweeping across the Florida Panhandle and into Georgia and Alabama.

The Hurricane warning includes Albany, Valdosta, Tifton and surrounding areas. The tropical storm warning applies to other southern counties in Alabama and Georgia.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee said winds of at least 40 mph could reach these areas as early as Sunday evening, with the worst conditions on Monday, including possible gusts well above hurricane force, capable of downing large trees and power lines.

The weather service said the strongest winds are likely to be east of the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers.

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3:30 p.m.

Georgia officials have decided a one-way escape route for coastal residents fleeing Hurricane Irma isn't needed after all.

State troopers had all lanes of Interstate 16 heading westbound out of Savannah on Saturday morning. But traffic on the route was light and Gov. Nathan Deal ordered that eastbound lanes return to normal use just eight hours later.

Officials adjusted the evacuation plan for Irma as forecasts shifted the storm's predicted path further westward. Forecasts call for Irma's center to arrive far inland in southern Georgia on Monday after it churns up the west coast of Florida.

Roughly 540,000 coastal Georgia residents are under evacuation orders. Many left before Saturday, while others have decided to stay.

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12:25 p.m.

State troopers turned Interstate 16 into a one-way escape route Saturday as evacuees packed cars and fled the Georgia coast ahead of Hurricane Irma, which forecasters said could cause widespread damage in the state from storm surge near Savannah to toppled trees and power lines far inland in Atlanta.

All 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the Georgia coast was placed under a hurricane watch Saturday. So was a portion of coastal South Carolina from the Georgia line to Edisto Beach, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Charleston.

Georgia's coast hasn't suffered a direct landfall from a major hurricane since 1898, and Irma looked unlikely to snap that streak. The National Hurricane Center predicted the storm's center would arrive inland in southern Georgia heading northward through the state Monday after churning up the west coast of Florida.

Gov. Nathan Deal's order for nearly 540,000 people to evacuate Georgia's six coastal counties took effect Saturday, with authorities turning all lanes of I-16 into one-way routes leading westward out of Savannah. Traffic out of the city and its neighboring island communities appeared light. Most businesses were closed in Savannah, where a smattering of homes and storefronts had plywood covering their windows.

Terry Boykin said most of her neighbors on Whitemarsh Island, just east of Savannah, had fled early. Boykin and her three grandsons packed her SUV early Saturday with small suitcases, three coolers filled with food from their refrigerator and a propane grill. They planned to stay with Boykin's daughter in Statesboro, about an hour's drive to the west.

"You don't know what's going to happen," Boykin said, who evacuated last October when Hurricane Matthew brushed the Georgia coast. "We've had so many storms that look like they're coming straight at us, and they miss us every time. But one of them is going to get you."

Only coastal Georgia was under evacuation orders, even as Irma's center was forecast to pass 100 miles (160 kilometers) or more inland. Regardless, tropical storm winds from Irma were expected to reach the coast early Monday, said Dennis Jones, emergency management director for Chatham County, which includes Savannah. Those winds could still inundate coastal areas with storm surge amplified by unusually high tides.

"We could still see flooding that is similar to Matthew or worse," Jones said.

The National Weather Service said southeast Georgia could see 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 centimeters) of rain, with Irma spreading lesser amounts of rainfall into portions of Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Sustained winds of 40 mph and isolated tornadoes are possible in central and northern Georgia on Monday and early Tuesday, the weather service said, and could blow over trees and snap power lines in an area that includes metro Atlanta.

Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said the utility has more than 5,000 employees on standby to respond. He said the chance for widespread outages across the state appeared "very likely," unlike Matthew a year ago that mostly blacked out coastal communities.

"We don't anticipate this will be a highly localized event," Hawkins said.

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