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Is Bulloch prepared for Hanna?
Gustav L 6747744
Police officer walks inside a shelter set up for evacuees from Hurricane Gustav in Shreveport, La., Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008. Many of the people that fled the storm are complaining about sub-standard facilities devoid of any Red Cross or FEMA aid. - photo by Associated Press
    Latest predictions bring Tropical Storm Hanna closer to the East Coast, and with the high possibility that the storm could reach Category 2 hurricane status and strike the Savannah area, local authorities are preparing for the worst.
    However, they are hoping for the best, said Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn.
    He met Tuesday afternoon with county and city department and agency heads to discuss the distinct possibility that Hanna could come inland Friday afternoon as a hurricane, and quite possibly make landfall in the Savannah area.
    If Hanna stays her course, "it is potentially a very serious situation for coastal Georgia and other inland counties such as ourselves," he said.
    Wynn likened the predicted scenario to that which came with Hurricane Floyd in 1999, causing major evacuation and massive traffic issues that extended to Bulloch and surrounding counties — not to mention  the weather effects.
    And along behind Hannah comes Tropical Storm Ike, which could wreak more havoc as it seems to be taking "a similar path to Hannah," he said. "It certainly is a threat to us."
    As of Tuesday afternoon, Hanna was moving west-southwest but was expected to be pushed by the remnants of Hurricane Gustav northeastward, placing it's path between Cape Canaveral, Fla. and Wilmington, S.C., he said. "That puts Savannah, Georgia right in the center of that track."
    If Hanna does strike Savannah, the rain from Gustav will have the potential for flooding in the southeast Georgia area, Wynn said.
    Lynn Bowen, new director of the Bulloch chapter of the American Red Cross,  told the group Gustav victims have been sheltered in the Atlanta area of the state, and the few requests for shelter in Bulloch County were diverted to somewhere closer to the victim's homes.
    "At this point we are diverting them ... in anticipation of Hanna," she said.
    The Savannah Red Cross is moving its base of operations to Statesboro in preparation of Hanna making landfall at the port city. Bowen said volunteer evacuation of  Savannah is expected to begin today and if the storm stays its predicted course, mandatory evacuation will begin Thursday.
    Bulloch County does not evacuate, Wynn reminded the group, but added that in case of the storm public shelter will be opened for "those in mobile homes or low lying areas."
Bulloch is prepared
    There are 15 groups of Bulloch County public safety and emergency response agents prepared to take care of the county's citizens, Wynn said.
    In areas of communications, transportations, public works, and other areas, leaders will be fielding teams of emergency response personnel from the Emergency Operations Center at the Arnold R. Akins Complex next to the Bulloch County Jail and 911 Center, Wynn said.
    He plans to meet with the leaders of those 15 special emergency teams Thursday morning to assess the Hanna situation form Bulloch County's standpoint, he said.
    All vacation and leave for county employees have been canceled and Wynn warned county leaders to make provisions for their families in case the storm strikes, because they will be spending long hours on the job as  the emergency situation endures.
    "If things turn out like they look like they are, you're going to have a traffic problem," he told law enforcement leaders.
    Georgia Department of Transportation director C. R. Jackson said if the storm continues as it is expected and does make landfall near Savannah, officials may decided to "contra-flow" the lanes of Interstate 16 — making all lanes westbound for evacuees.
    DOT equipment in the Savannah area is already being moved to Statesboro, he said.
    Georgia State Patrol Capt. Kirk McGlamery said there are currently n plans to contraflow the interstate lanes, but if the storm strikes Savannah even as just a category 1 storm, Chatham County may move for contraflow anyway.
    "We don't know when it is going to hit," he said. "Time is of the essence."
    The Georgia State Patrol is planning to send troopers from counties further inland to assist with the contraflow traffic if needed, so local GSP troopers can continue working local situations as needed, he said.
    Should evacuation occur, phone lines will be brought into the EOC and it will be base for all public safety operations, Wynn said. The center is generator supported and offers wireless Internet.
    Wynn reminded the group that preparations at this point are only preliminary as everyone watches to see what Hanna will do. However, all preparations are ready to go should the storm come for Savannah.
    "The worst case scenario, according to the National Weather Service in Charleston, is Jenkins and Bulloch County could get (winds up to even 100 miles per hour) ... trees down ... power outages, blocked roads and heavy damage to total destruction" of structures such as mobile homes, he said.
    However, the "worst possible scenario" isn't what is predicted; still, the storm could pose a real danger with tornadoes and flooding. "This could be a heavy public works event," he told Bulloch County work crews.
Remember Floyd?
    Wynn likened the possibility of Hanna's damage to that of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. "Even if Hanna goes south of us we will likely still get winds, tornadoes and flooding," he said.
    And if it goes north, the Bulloch area will still feel Hanna's wrath. "It is possible it will take a right turn and go up to Wilmington, but we'll still get some effects," he said.
    Statesboro Police Chief Stan York said his officers will be split between traffic duties and security at safe shelters should the storm bring evacuees to Statesboro.
    Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson echoed York in stating deputies will be working where needed, likely aiding in dangerous areas and damage repair and other issues out in the county.
    The American Red Cross has limited shelter to offer and will not be handing out vouchers for hotel rooms this year, Bowen said.
    Bulloch County EMS Director Lee Eckles said there are only six ambulances, and if an emergency situation arises, drivers and EMTs will have to prioritize calls and what is usually constituted as an emergency may have a different status in a hurricane situation.
    He also said his agency would be utilizing help from Bulloch County firefighters and ambulances may be stationed at county fire stations for the duration of the storm situation in order to have better response times.
    Wynn said he will keep county leaders informed of the storm's status and will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday for an update, so citizens will be better informed regarding Hanna's status and which preparations should be made.
    Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.  

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