Augusta officials open the city’s doors today to the first of thousands of evacuees fleeing Hurricane Irma.
At 2 p.m. a first Red Cross shelter for self-evacuees, people driving themselves away from the storm, opens at Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church, city Fire Chief and Emergency Management Agency Director Chris James said.
At 10 p.m. tonight, a first shelter opening under an agreement with Chatham County to house evacuees with special medical needs is opening at an Augusta high school (Westside High), the chief said.
Chatham is one of several coastal Georgia counties under a mandatory evacuation order.
Beginning Saturday morning, buses of evacuees will begin arriving at seven Richmond County school system sites opening at 8 a.m. under the same agreement between the school system, Chatham and Augusta EMA, James said.
Augusta Animal Services is having locations inspected by the Georgia Department of Agriculture to determine if they are safe to use as shelters for evacuated pets, James said. The downtown fairgrounds designated previously as an animal shelter site is in a low-lying area likely unsafe if flash flooding occurs, he said.
The city and the Red Cross of Augusta will open additional shelters for evacuees as needed, officials said. During Hurricane Matthew last year, those shelter sites included May Park Community Center downtown.
Irma is expected to bring tropical storm-force winds, roughly 40 miles per hour, and heavy rain to Augusta beginning around 8 p.m. Sunday, according to the latest forecast. Flash flooding is common in the city during most heavy rainfall.
Mayor Hardie Davis urged residents not to panic as the storm nears and thousands of visitors descend on the city.
He encouraged volunteers including licensed medical professionals to sign up on the city’s website at augustaga.gov.
“These are good Georgians who are coming here at a time when they are experiencing a tragic moment,” Davis said. “We want to make sure that this is a place of safe refuge for them as they come to our community and we will house them, we will shelter them, we will feed and clothe them We will love them just like they were our brothers and sisters.”
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