While Hurricane Michael still remains a dangerous storm, a northward shift Wednesday morning has the eye aimed at the center of the state.
That means it is likely Bulloch County will still see some tropical storm-force winds extending throughout the day, with the possibility of tornadoes, said Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn. (For The Associated Press story, click here.)
"We're still on what is categorized as the 'bad side' of the storm," he said.
But predictions early Wednesday still had Michael as a fast-moving storm, which means Bulloch and surrounding counties might not get as much rain as believed earlier.
"It's pretty much going to be a wind event," he said.
Just in case, however, a "good Samaritan" shelter opened at First Baptist Church at 108 N. Main St. in Statesboro. Those in need of safe shelter were asked to bring medications, bedding material and enough personal supplies for two days.
As the storm continues through Thursday, Wynn warned residents to remain safe.
"We are asking citizens to stay put in a safe location until the storm passes and we have the opportunity to assess damages and potential dangers to the public," he said. "We want you to know that in the case of an absolute emergency, we will respond to calls for service, but in the event that it becomes too dangerous for our deputies to be on patrol, we will stage them in a safe place until the storm passes."
There will be no curfew unless the situation becomes "grave," Wynn said, but Bulloch County sheriff's Capt. Todd Hutchens said, "Please stay safe and off the roads so emergency vehicles and personnel can pass."
"Sheriff (Noel) Brown has no plans to initiate any type of curfew other than asking citizens to please use common sense and not be out in the storm unless it is an absolute emergency," Wynn said.
Schools closed, hospital open
Bulloch County Schools closed Wednesday and will remain closed today, said Hayley Greene, Bulloch County Schools public relations and marketing specialist.
"All of the school system's extracurricular and athletic activities for Thursday are canceled as well, and we will reschedule them at a later date," she said. "School administrators will continue to monitor the storm's effects and make an announcement about Friday's school, extracurricular and athletic operations by 2 p.m. on Thursday."
Parents are reminded to "be alert for announcements via local media, social media, our website, and our electronic telephone and email messaging system," Greene said.
Since school officials were informed that "there is a 60 to 70 percent chance that Bulloch County may experience sustained winds of up to 40–45 mph," the decision was made to close the schools, she said.
"While no official source is able to pinpoint with 100 percent accuracy the exact times we could be affected, we believe it is in the best interest for the safety of our children and employees to err on the side of caution," said Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson. "There is also the possibility of tornado activity and 4 to 6 inches of rain and flash flooding."
The storm may "produce unsafe road conditions for our school buses, which transport more than 5,200 children twice daily, and our more than 500 student drivers," he said.
"It is unsafe for children to be outside waiting at bus stops or released at bus stops to walk home because wind speeds of up to 40 mph will produce flying debris that could present a danger to pedestrians or distract drivers, resulting in the loss of vehicular control."
It is also unsafe to operate school buses to transport children when wind speeds reach 40 mph. Buses become harder to control, and wind gusts produce debris that can strike a bus or create road hazards, he said.
Items on the agenda for the Bulloch County Board of Education regular session meeting, which was scheduled for tonight, will be addressed at the board's Oct. 25 meeting, he said.
It will be business as usual at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, with hospital staff prepared for the storm, said Erin Spillman, EGRMC marketing director and public information officer.
"As Hurricane Michael moves toward our area, we have taken steps to continue operations through the storm and to keep our patients and staff safe," she said. "East Georgia Regional Medical Center has detailed plans to address disaster situations, and our staff drills regularly on hurricane scenarios."
The hospital has secured surplus supplies, including mobile backup generators and fuel, to continue services without interruption, she said.
Elective procedures planned for today are being rescheduled for a time as soon as possible after the storm. Cedar Surgical, East Georgia Internal Medicine & Pediatrics, East Georgia Primary Care, Statesboro Imaging Center, and East Georgia Pulmonary & Sleep Disorder Medicine will be closed today as well.
The hospital will not be able to serve as a public shelter in order to ensure service to patients is uninterrupted, she said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.