Statesboro City Hall will be closed Monday and probably Tuesday, with a possibility of reopening Tuesday if Hurricane Irma spares the area. But police and firefighters are preparing for days when they may live at headquarters while working in a disaster aftermath.
Bulloch County officials plan to decide Friday whether they will close nonessential county buildings and waste collection centers. That and other decisions will follow a morning meeting of officials from various agencies at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. But Bulloch County Schools announced Thursday that all the school system’s campuses will be closed Friday, Monday and Tuesday.
City Hall is open Friday, but officials also went ahead and announced that it will be closed Monday, at least.
“If we are so fortunate that the storm has minimal effect, then we may reopen Tuesday, and we’ll announce that, but there’s no expectation that we’ll be doing that at this time,” Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore said Thursday afternoon.
“I hope we do,” she added. “I hope City Hall does open on Tuesday. That means that it was a minimal storm here, but it’s not going to be.”
Irma remained a Category 5 hurricane, with some of the highest winds ever measured in an Atlantic storm. Weather forecasters projected it will slow to Category 3, still very dangerous, upon turning north toward Georgia and South Carolina.
So, while hoping for better, officials here are planning for the worst.
Not just the Police Department’s 60 or so available officers and the Statesboro Fire Department’s nearly 50 firefighters, but employees of the city’s Public Works Department could go on extended shifts.
They started checking ditches and storm drains to make sure they were clear and preparing equipment Wednesday, said city Public Works and Engineering Director Jason Boyles. His department’s employees will have Saturday off, but about 30 may have to return to work Sunday afternoon, he said.
The Police Department looks at tiers of response based on the need, said Statesboro Chief of Police Mike Broadhead. At Tier 2, he would put all officers on 12-hour shifts, with detectives and uniformed officers divided equally between nights and days.
“And then Tier 3 would be the same, except that nobody gets to go home,” Broadhead said.
The city government has received donations of food and bottled water from Statesboro Food Bank and some grocery stores to feed its emergency responders.
“We’ll be cooking for them down at the Police Department, and as they get hungry, they’ll come back in and eat and go back out,” Moore said.
One place citizens can look for updates on the city’s response is the Statesboro Police Department’s page on Facebook. When the SPD goes to emergency staffing levels, probably Sunday, the department will begin posting updates there every 15 minutes, Broadhead said.
If even tropical storm-force winds arrive in the area, there will come a time, while trees and live wires are falling, when emergency personnel such as police cannot immediately respond to calls, he confirmed. This occurred when Hurricane Matthew, which at the time was a tropical storm, roared through the area last October.
“At some point it just becomes too dangerous for us to even have officers out moving around, and those are probably relatively short periods of time, and we’ll make sure we announce when that happens,” Broadhead said.
Bulloch County public safety and public works employees are also in a state of readiness, said County Manager Tom Couch. He had been part of a National Weather Service teleconference Thursday morning, also attended by the sheriff, Statesboro city personnel and Brooklet’s police chief, among others.
“Everybody’s keyed into it, and nobody’s taking anything for granted,” Couch said.
Local officials learned a lot from Matthew, he said. Cleaning up roads and streets took months, and the county and city governments recorded more than $2 million in public expenses, much of which was reimbursed by the federal and state governments.
Since Tuesday, county employees have been topping off fuel daily in patrol cars, trucks and road equipment to be able to operate if supplies are interrupted, Couch said.
“Ultimately, when all of this comes about, my advice is listen to the emergency officials and first responders and take their advice and take it seriously,” he said.
Another place for updates is the Bulloch County Public Safety/EMA page on Facebook.
State of Emergency
Gov. Nathan Deal first declared a state of emergency Wednesday for six coastal Georgia counties, including Bryan County. Thursday, he expanded it to 24 more counties, among them Bulloch, Candler, Emanuel, Evans, Jenkins and Screven.
With Thursday’s declaration, Deal ordered mandatory evacuation “East of Interstate 95 along Georgia’s coastline” effective 8 a.m. Saturday. He also ordered up to 5,000 Georgia National Guard troops into active duty.
Georgia law prohibits price gouging, or marking up prices higher than required by rising costs of goods and their transportation, during a state of emergency.
As of Thursday, not all local hotel and motel rooms were booked, even though the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau received dozens of calls from people fleeing the storm and visits from displaced Savannah tourists. The Irma-forced move of Georgia Southern University’s Saturday football game to Birmingham, Alabama, prompted room cancellations.
In a 4 p.m. check of four of the larger hotels, SCVB Executive Director Becky Davis found a total of more than 90 rooms available for Friday night and about 80 rooms for Saturday night. Reservations can change from hour to hour, she cautioned.
“Pretty much after Sunday, though, everything’s booked,” Davis said.
Other school closings
In school closing announcements, Bulloch Academy will be open Friday but closed Monday and Tuesday. Trinity Christian School also announced a Monday and Tuesday closing.
Closed Friday, Monday and Tuesday: Public schools in Bryan, Effingham and Evans counties. Closed Monday and Tuesday: Public Schools in Jenkins and Screven counties.
Ogeechee Technical College, always closed Fridays, cancelled classes for Monday and Tuesday. Georgia Southern University is closed Friday through Tuesday.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.