Gov. Nathan Deal and state officials outline preparations for Hurricane Irma

Even as the path of Hurricane Irma continues to shift days before it will hit the state, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal reiterated his mandatory evacuation order for coastal areas on Saturday, warning that those who stay will be “on your own.”

 

At a press conference this morning, Deal and state officials outlined the preparations for the now Category 4 storm expected to hit in three days. Deal has declared a state of emergency for 94 counties, essentially every county in south and middle Georgia, and President Trump approved it Friday afternoon. It allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance and equipment to help respond to the storm. That includes “debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance (that) will be provided at 75 percent federal funding,” according to Trump’s order.

“This is a time of crisis for our state,” Deal said.

The governor warned Georgians not to be complacent about the storm because Hurricane Matthew last year was less severe than expected because that storm struck the coastal areas at low tide and the state might not be so fortunate this time . Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, said they are monitoring the path of the storm on an hourly basis and adjusting plans as needed.

Those who live east of Interstate 95 along the coast of Georgia, including all of Chatham County, are under a mandatory evacuation order as of 8 a.m. Saturday and the state at that time will “contraflow” all lanes of Interstate 16 to go west from Savannah to Dublin. Those leaving should not only have a plan for evacuation but a backup plan as well and should have plenty of gas and time to travel, said Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry.

“It’s going to be a slow go,” he said. “Please pack your patience.”

Deal said the state is “not going to drag someone out of their home if they don’t want to leave” but they should also not expect the state to rescue them as well. By staying, “you have said you are going to do it on your own,” he said.

About 5,000 Georgia National Guard troops are on alert to assist with the storm and will be called up as needed. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is opening all state parks and will admit people free of charge and can accommodate up to 10,000 people but no one will be turned away, said Commissioner Mark Williams.

Those with special medical needs in the Savannah area who are registered will be moved to facilities in Augusta starting at 10 p.m. Friday, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. They will be going to a shelter at Westside High School, one of seven that the Richmond County Board of Education and the American Red Cross are opening in Augusta, said Shawn Vincent, chief operating officer with AU Medical Center.

His hospital will be sending a “wide array of clinicians,” from physicians to residents and fellow and advanced practice nurses to those shelters to provide care, Vincent said. AUMC’s Level One Trauma Center is also adding additional physician and surgical backup because Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah is already on diversion for trauma, leaving the hospital and one in Macon as the only top-level trauma centers for this region.

O’Neal said the state is putting a public health nurse and working to get a physician in every shelter being opened in the state. His department is also coordinating the evacuation of patients from hospitals in the coastal areas to other areas of the state, including Augusta. As happened last year with Hurricane Matthew, 25 nursing home patients from Fraser Health Care in Hilton Head were evacuated Friday to a facility associated with University Hospital in Augusta, this time to University Extended Care Amara.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

Comcast opening free wi-fi service ahead of Hurricane Irma

To help residents and emergency personnel stay connected if Hurricane Irma makes its anticipated landfall in Georgia, Comcast is opening nearly 10,000 Xfinity WiFi hotspots throughout impacted areas to anyone who needs them, including non-Xfinity customers, for free.

Comcast has opened up all Wi-Fi hotspots in Savannah and surrounding communities, as well as in Augusta and Brunswick.

For a map of the Xfinity WiFi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in places such as shopping districts, parks and businesses, residents can visit www.Xfinity.com/wifi. Once in range of a hotspot, they may select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.

Xfinity internet customers can sign in with their usernames and passwords, and they will be automatically connected to Xfinity WiFi hotspots in the future. Non-Xfinity internet subscribers should visit the “Not an Xfinity Internet Customer” section on the sign-in page to get started. Non-customers will be able to renew their complimentary sessions every two hours through September 15, 2017.

“It’s critical that impacted residents have a means of communication at their disposal before, during and after a storm with the potential impact of Hurricane Irma,” said Doug Guthrie, Regional Senior Vice President for Comcast in Atlanta. “By activating our Wi-Fi network today throughout impacted communities, we can help more people stay connected at a critical time.”

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