Hurricane Irma has moved farther west before turning north, and new projections of its likely path centered on one that drove up the middle of Florida.
That was the gist of the National Weather Service map projected behind Bulloch County EMA Director Ted Wynn when officials from more than a dozen agencies packed the county's Emergency Operations Center for a briefing at 9 a.m. Friday. Such a path, while catastrophic for Florida, was projected to weaken the monstrous storm before it reached southern Georgia. Irma had already been downgraded from a maximally dangerous Category 5 to a still very dangerous Category 4.
Wynn's message: Prepare for the worst anyway.
"The path now looks like it's coming up through Florida and probably as a minimal hurricane will make the Georgia-Florida line and then continue on through Georgia as a tropical storm, but that puts us on the bad side of it," he summarized. "That puts us on the side that can bring heavy rain, the possibility of tornadoes, so our reaction has not changed.
"We will continue to lean forward on this particular hurricane and treat it just like it was going to make a landfall on the coast of Georgia," Wynn said.
In fact, with Floridians fleeing northward and a mandatory evacuation of the Georgia coast east of Interstate Highway 95 effective 8 a.m. Saturday, some local agencies were already dealing with emergency situations.
Hospital at capacity
East Georgia Regional Medical Center was so packed by patients evacuated from Savannah that the Statesboro hospital's leadership needed to figure out how to accommodate more local patients when the storm hits.
"We're doing our best to get people placed that can be placed, discharge people that are able to be discharged now back home and are otherwise healthy, that sort of thing," said East Georgia Regional Medical Center CEO Paul Theriot. "That's what we're trying to do, so that we can create some capacity for Monday and Tuesday, but currently, right now, we are beyond capacity."
Many of the patients from outside the area were evacuated nursing homes in Savannah, he said.
When the storm arrives, the hospital will encourage employees, such as nurses, who might have trouble driving back from their homes to remain at the hospital, and will feed and house them there, Theriot said. The hospital has multiple layers of electrical power backup, he noted.
"There will be injuries and we will do our best to treat them," he said.
Under Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's state of emergency declaration, all traffic on Interstate 16 will flow only westward from Savannah beginning 8 a.m. Saturday. Normally eastbound lanes will become westbound lanes.
Georgia State Patrol troopers from northern Georgia were being brought in to direct I-16 traffic in the "contra-flow" situation, leaving Statesboro area troopers to respond to emergencies here, said Sgt. 1st Class C.N. Rodewolt, post commander of GSP Post 45, Statesboro.
Get your oxygen
Bulloch County Emergency Medical Service Director Doug Vickers wanted to get the word out to people who are oxygen-dependent to contact their vendors immediately to ensure they have enough to last through the storm.
"We do not have extra cylinders and we cannot provide them with oxygen; all we can do is transport them to the hospital," Vickers said. "If they can go ahead and contact their vendors, get some extra cylinders or have a number they can call for maintenance, that would be terrific."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.