A tropical storm watch remained in effect for Bulloch County as of Thursday afternoon, but as Hurricane Ian continued to head for landfall in South Carolina, damaging winds and rain in the area may not be as severe as first feared.
Ian has shifted to the north and east and is not expected to make a direct hit on the Georgia coast, Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday.
Weakened from the Category 4 hurricane that slammed into Southwest Florida Wednesday, Ian is now expected to make a second landfall Friday in South Carolina, the governor said during a briefing in Savannah.
Earlier in the week, rainfall totals of six inches or more were forecast for parts of Bulloch County along with wind gusts of 60 mph or more.
“We can still expect the possibility of tropical storm force wind gusts (Thursday night) and into Friday,” said Bulloch Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn in an email. “Rain is expected in the range of 1-3 inches.”
Local state of emergency
According to a release from the city of Statesboro, Mayor Jonathan McCollar issued a local state of emergency Thursday afternoon in anticipation of severe weather resulting from Tropical Storm Ian.
The local state of emergency follows the declaration of emergency from Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday of this week and Bulloch County’s declaration earlier today.
A declaration of a local state of emergency provides the framework for coordination between local, state and federal agencies. The declaration also authorizes the city to take extraordinary and immediate corrective actions for the protection of the welfare of its citizens.
Representatives from the City of Statesboro met with local emergency response representatives at the Bulloch County Emergency Operations Center Thursday morning to discuss current storm preparation efforts and future planning in the event of severe weather, according to the release.
Coastal area expected to see worst of storm
Along the Georgia coast, two to four inches of rain still are possible for Thursday and Friday, accompanied by three to five feet of storm surge and gusty winds of up to 40 miles an hour.
A tropical storm warning, storm surge warning, hurricane watch, and flood watch are in effect along Georgia’s entire 110-mile coast through Friday, while a wind advisory is in effect for much of North and Middle Georgia.
The order Kemp issued earlier this week declaring a state of emergency for all of Georgia’s 159 counties took effect Thursday morning.
The state Department of Transportation closed the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick Thursday morning, but the Houlihan Bridge over the Savannah River is closed only to boat traffic.
While Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport remains open, the Georgia Ports Authority has cleared the Port of Brunswick of all vessels until the storm passes. The Port of Savannah has cleared any waiting ships and continued operating until 6 p.m. Thursday.
State emergency management officials said plenty of hotel rooms remain available in Georgia to house Floridians traveling north to get out of the worst effects of what was Hurricane Ian.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development has activated the Explore Georgia hurricane information webpage to help evacuees find rooms and other resources.
Kemp encouraged Georgians in low-lying areas or at-risk floodplains – particularly those who live in vulnerable housing – to consider moving temporarily to higher ground.
Devastation in Florida
Ian struck Florida as a monstrous Category 4 storm, with 150 mph winds that tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.
Even after weakening, Ian’s tropical storm-force winds still reached 415 miles from its center. Forecasters predicted the Atlantic waters would strengthen it to a Category 1 hurricane before it makes landfall Friday in South Carolina.
The destruction began to come into focus a day after Ian made landfall in Florida as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the U.S. The storm flooded homes on both of the state's coasts, cut off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses — nearly a quarter of utility customers. At least one man was confirmed dead.
Aerial photos from the Fort Myers area, a few miles west of where Ian struck land, showed homes ripped from their slabs and deposited in a jumble among shredded wreckage. Businesses near the beach were completely razed, leaving just twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles beside damaged boats, and fires smoldered on lots where houses once stood.
“We’ve never seen storm surge of this magnitude,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told a news conference. “The amount of water that’s been rising, and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flooding event.”