Ga., S.C. coasts brace for holiday soaking from storm

Saturday, May 26, 2012 2:37 PM
Last updated Sunday, May 27, 2012 12:27 AM
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SAVANNAH, Ga. — A cluster of thunderstorms that stalled off the southeastern U.S. coast Saturday is expected to make for a sloppy, rainy Memorial Day on beaches and in tourist towns from Florida to South Carolina.

At Carolina Beach, N.C., rip currents on Saturday prompted Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue to close the beach to swimming and not allow people in past their knees.  MATT BORN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MATT BORN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
At Carolina Beach, N.C., rip currents on Saturday prompted Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue to close the beach to swimming and not allow people in past their knees.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the entire Georgia coastline, and parts of Florida and South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Beryl was technically still considered a “subtropical storm,” but the system is expected to bring winds and rain to the area regardless of its official classification.

Tropical storm conditions – meaning maximum sustained winds of 45 mph – were predicted for as soon as Saturday night. Three to six inches of rain are forecast for the area. Some coastal flooding is forecast, as the rain could cause high tides.

As of 8 p.m. Saturday, Beryl was still centered about 220 miles east-southeast of Charleston, S.C. It had become stronger, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. It was moving southwest at 6 mph, with its center expected to be near the coast by late Sunday.

Dangerous surf conditions are possible from northeast Florida to North Carolina over the holiday weekend, forecasters said.

“A three-day thunderstorm is what it’s probably going to be,” said Jay Wiggins, the emergency management director for Glynn County, which is about 60 miles south of Savannah and includes Brunswick and St. Simons Island. “Unfortunately, it’s going to ruin a lot of Memorial Day plans.”

Wiggins said he expects some flooded roads and scattered power outages, perhaps some minor flooding in waterfront homes, but otherwise little damage. However, he urged beachgoers to beware of dangerous rip currents.

On Tybee Island, home to Georgia’s largest public beach east of Savannah, employees at Amy Gaster’s home and condo rental business were making sure arriving guests were aware of the storm. Gaster said her 180 rentals were sold out and nobody was canceling plans or asking to check out early.

“Mostly I think people are just curious,” said Gaster, adding that guests were being urged to bring in patio furniture if the winds kick up and prepare to hunker down for movies and home cooking Monday. “We’re just saying. ‘Take advantage of today as your beach day and get it while you can.’ ”

On Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness area beloved by hikers and campers, superintendent Fred Boyles said he planned to wait until today to decide whether campers need to evacuate before the storm arrives. Boyles said he had about 100 campers planning to stay overnight tonight, and the only way to leave Cumberland Island is by ferry.

Georgia hasn’t taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in 114 years, and the last time a tropical storm made landfall there was in August 1988. Tropical Storm Chris hit near Savannah but did little damage as it pushed northward into South Carolina.

In South Carolina, Beau­fort County Emergency Management deputy director David Zeoli said that at midday Saturday word went out to first responders along the coast near the Georgia line to pay attention to the storm’s progress.

Officials haven’t been ordered to work, but have been told to stay near a phone, Zeoli said.

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