Hurricane Irma first caught the attention of Liberty and Long counties, and the rest of Coastal Georgia on Aug. 31 as it formed in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean.
It approached several Caribbean islands as a Category 5 storm early last week, and several projections showed it turning north along the east coast of Florida and making landfall in the Savannah area as a Category 4 storm at the least.
Hurricane Matthew, as a comparison, which caused major damage across the region last October, was a weak Category 1 storm, meaning it had winds of between 74 and 95 mph.
As Irma crept closer to the Florida Keys, its path continued to shift to the northwest, eventually crossing over the panhandle of Florida and heading past Albany, and into Alabama. Its winds and rain hit started lightly in our area Friday night as the outer bands of the massive storm was still approaching south Florida. Heavier rain and wind came in Saturday into Sunday. Tropical storm force started Sunday and lasted through much of Monday, with gusts of 50 mph and over six and a half inches of rain in eastern Liberty County.
Sept. 7: Gov. Nathan Deal issues a mandatory evacuation beginning at 8 a.m. on Sept. 9 for all Georgia residents living east of I-95.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, area officials announce local evacuations matching the statewide order, and that classes would be canceled Sept. 8, 11 and 12 due to the evacuation order. All extracurricular activities during the closure also are canceled.
Sept. 8: As officials, residents and business prepare, closures, cancelations and postponements are announced. National predictions show the storm heading farther west, but officials stand by evacuation orders, saying Irma was so big it would still effect the area.
Sept. 9: Contraflow in I-16 begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.
Several privately owned water systems said they could turn off water to avoid contamination from waste water if power went out.
Long County announces a curfew for midday Sunday into Tuesday, though it was later cut back to Monday evening.
Liberty County Emergency Services opens its emergency operations center in the old Liberty County jail across from the Hinesville Fire Department.
With Irma’s path now well to the west the state downgraded evacuations in some areas from mandatory to voluntary, but not in Liberty. Contraflow on I-16 is canceled about 6 p.m.
Sept. 10: Officials warn the storm will still be strong here and several locations announce curfews. Power outages start plaguing isolated areas
Sept. 11: Now nearing the Florida Panhandle, Irma is downgraded to a tropical storm. Tropical storm watches remain through the area. Tornado watches are in effect throughout the day. Tornado warnings are posted, then cancelled. Just after 10 a.m., a storm surge is issued for Coastal Liberty, foreboding the problems coming at high tide, between 1:30 and 4:30 that afternoon. The hurricane reached its closest point to the area in early afternoon.
Sept. 12: Gov. Deal says the mandatory evacuation order remains in place, but that local municipalities can allow re-entry. Officials in Liberty and Long County lift all curfews and evacuation orders allowing residents to return.
LEMA announced it was moving into the recovery phase and going to minimal staff at 5 p.m. Regular operations were to restart at 8 a.m. Wednesday.