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Residents east of I-95 need to be vigilant of incoming storm

Liberty County Emergency Management Director Mike Hodges said Hurricane Matthew will get relatively close, enough so that he and County Administrator Joey Brown encouraged residents living east of I-95 to monitor the store and be prepared.

Hodges and Brown spoke before a packed room during a 10 a.m. briefing about the incoming storm Wednesday morning at the Liberty County Annex Building.

“The east side of the county is going to get beat up just a bit,” Hodges said as he noted the hurricane is maintaining upper level strength despite having hit land in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas.

Brown said those living on the east end of the county should start to prepare their belongings in case they need to issue an evacuation order. Hodges noted they will monitor the storm for the next 24 hours to determine whether an evacuation order is needed.

Hodges said Matthew’s current track has it swiping the entire coast from Florida up to South Carolina. He noted, based on current models, the storm should be due east of Jacksonville around 2 a.m. Saturday. He said that will be the likely time that our area will start to feel the brunt of the storm since we will be in the upper left hand quadrant where the wind and rain will be sustained.

Hodges said we could see 10 inches of rain or more and that tropical storm force winds extend out for 10-15 miles from the center of the storm.

Certain models show that Matthew is expected to make a sharp right turn but Hodges said they don’t know exactly when that turn will happen if it happens at all.

“Is it going to do that and when is it going to do that?” Hodges asked. “That is the part we just don’t’ know right now.”

Brown said that, for now, all government buildings will remain open and possibly close around noon Friday.

Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said the board of education has already decided to close schools Friday but with the possibility of a sustained wind and rain event in the east end, she may recommend that schools and personnel also be shut down by Thursday morning.

First Presbyterian Christian Academy Principal Shannon Hickey added they will also look to close the school by tomorrow morning based on the briefing.

Representatives from Georgia Power and Coastal Electric EMC spoke about having emergency crews on hand in strategic locations to restore power once the storm blows through. But both warned that with a significant storm like Matthew full restoration could take days.

Brown reminded those in attendance that emergency crews, law enforcement, ambulances and first responders will be ready to mobilize but noted those personnel are not operational once the winds exceed 45 miles per hour.

Liberty County Director of Inspections Steve Wellborn said the county has reached out to companies working on construction sites and have asked them to secure materials before the approach of the storm. He said work crews at the new Oglethorpe Plaza have already begun securing the area and all work is expected to stop until Monday.

Brown noted that the county does not open shelters. It is the American Red Cross that will decide if and when a shelter should open, and that they are likely to be farther inland than here. He said the best plan for now is to plan to just evacuate if needed.

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