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Bulloch under local emergency declaration for Hurricane Idalia
Emergency ops center activated; schools close Weds. and Thurs.; Georgia Southern shifts online
Bulloch EOC - Idalia
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown, center, clarifies the role of his office and employees for the upcoming storm during a meeting at the Emergency Operations Center to coordinate efforts to deal with the local tropical storm effects of Hurricane Idalia hosted by Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Director Ted Wynn, right, on Tuesday, June 29. He recommends that residents shelter in place as much as possible and that businesses consider temporary closure Wednesday and Thursday for safety reasons and to allow emergency workers to do their jobs effectively. (SCOTT BRYANT/staff)

When about 60 county, city, school system, public safety, volunteer organization and power utility leaders met in Bulloch County’s Emergency Operations Center at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to coordinate planning, Hurricane Idalia was still more than 600 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the National Weather Service, or NWS, had upgraded the previous watch to a Tropical Storm Warning for Bulloch and several neighboring counties. Ted Wynn, Bulloch County public safety and Emergency Management Agency director, noted that maps on the NWS website predicted 8 a.m. Wednesday as the “earliest reasonable arrival time of tropical storm-force winds” in this area. Those would be winds between 39 and 73 mph. The “most likely arrival time” of those winds was somewhere between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

A later version of the online map showed 2 p.m. as a probable arrival time on a line curving close to Statesboro.

Public Works and Transportation Director Dink Butler, whose department will be responsible for clearing debris and fixing washouts on Bulloch County’s roads, noted that wind speeds even less than 39 mph often result in fallen trees.

Meanwhile, Wynn had passed along information about an equally troubling aspect of the forecast for the Statesboro area.

“Now what has changed for us is the rain forecast, and if you look at this diagram here I think they’re forecasting now anywhere from six to 10 inches of rain are a possibility for us,” Wynn said. “Mr. Butler, I know that is not encouraging for you with the numbers of dirt roads that you’ve got, but this is apparently going to be a significant rainfall event, so we need to be prepared.”

A flood watch had been expanded to the entire area, and the bands of rain as well as the winds in them could cause significant impacts, he said.

“Hurricane wind probability is not going to be a factor here,” Wynn said. “We probably won’t seen winds above 74 miles an hour, but are going to see some probably approaching 50 to 60 miles an hour.”

Chairman Roy Thompson of the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners had signed a local emergency declaration, which Wynn said also covers Statesboro and the other towns, beginning Aug. 29 and lasting until Sept. 28 or until a state of emergency declared by Gov. Brian Kemp expires. The local declaration prohibits overcharging for goods, materials, housing and services and would allow curfews to be imposed.


Advice: Stay off roads

Butler said county road crews are ready and will work to clear roads while conditions are safe during daylight hours. But after dark or during sustained winds, their efforts will be limited to assisting the Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department and other emergency responders.

“We’re not going out in the dark, still clearing roads just for people to travel,” Butler said. “Please, anybody who has no need to be on the road for an absolute emergency, stay home, especially stay off the dirt roads with this rain event coming and projections of the volume of water.”

Sheriff Noel Brown backed Butler’s statement, and Wynn reframed it to advise everyone who can to stay off the roads to do so from noon Wednesday until Thursday morning if the storm arrives as expected.


Schools closed 2 days

Superintendent Charles Wilson at first said the Bulloch County Schools would be closed Wednesday and that he was considering closing Thursday. Sheriff Brown and County Manager Tom Couch urged that a decision be made during Tuesday’s meeting so that parents, child care providers and employers could plan ahead.

Wilson then said the county schools would close both days, and the school system issued a public notice shortly after 3 p.m.

“Due to the expected local impact of Hurricane Idalia, Bulloch County Schools will be closed on Wednesday, Aug. 30, and Thursday, Aug. 31, for all students and staff,” stated the message from school district Public Relations Director Hayley Greene.  “All aftercare services that are held in the district's school buildings will be suspended as well for these days, as well as all athletics and extracurricular activities.”

School officials will continue to assess the weather and campus conditions and issue an update, concerning Friday operations, by 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, she wrote. Individual schools are expected to communicate about specific athletic or extracurricular activities for Friday.


Tax hearing still on

But the first of the Bulloch County Board of Education’s second series of property tax millage increase hearings will still be held as scheduled at 12 noon Thursday, Aug. 31 in the boardroom of the district’s central office, 150 Williams Road, school district staffers noted.


GS decision

Meanwhile, Georgia Southern University announced “reduced operations” for all of its campuses, with essential personnel only on campuses and all classes to move online Wednesday. Classes will remain online Thursday, but all campuses are expected to reopen at noon Thursday, pending an “all clear” decision from university officials, with normal operations expected Friday.


Power outages

Joel Hanner, Statesboro area manager for Georgia Power, attended Tuesday’s meeting at the Bulloch County EOC and spoke of the company’s preparedness to deal with storm-caused outages.

Bulloch County 911 Director Kelly Barnard sought to clarify when people should call their electric power provider – either Georgia Power of Excelsior EMC – versus calling 911 about a power line-related problem.

“Remind our citizens that if your power goes out in your house, call your power company,” Barnard asked news organizations. “If it’s a downed power line, that’s a different game then, of course call us for that, but if it’s just someone at their home and they don’t have power, please call the power company, not 911. We get overloaded every time we have bad weather.”

Hanner agreed that the key is to call 911 when there is “an unsafe situation” such as power “lines on the road, lines on a car” but call your power company if it’s simply an outage.

Georgia Power’s storm preparation news release included this advice: “Never touch any downed or low-hanging wire, including telephone or TV wires that touch a power line. Never pull tree limbs off of power lines yourself or enter areas with debris or downed trees as downed power lines may be buried in wreckage.”

Customers can report and check the status of an outage 24 hours a day by contacting Georgia Power at 888-891-0938. Excelsior EMC’s number to report outages is 912-685-2115.

Bulloch County VOAD, or Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, was represented at the meeting by DeWayne Grice. He indicated that volunteer network’s response will be adapted to the actual outcome of the storm.

“We’re prepared to do all of the roles of VOAD, which are debris removal, assisting citizens with tarping of houses through Chris Yaughn (of Broken Shackle Ranch), food needs through Feed the Boro, and then we would also be prepared to do last-chance shelters in case of a large emergency,” Grice said.

At the time of the county meeting, Idalia was a Category 1 hurricane with winds measured at 85 mph. By 5 p.m. the winds had strengthened to 100 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane. But this was still on track with the earlier forecast that it could be a Category 3 hurricane, with winds in the 111-129 mph range, by the time it made landfall somewhere in the Big Bend region of Florida, north of Tampa and southeast of Tallahassee.

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