Just 11 months after Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on Liberty County and Coastal Georgia, area officials are monitoring Hurricane Irma and urging residents to take steps now to prepare.
Irma is currently tracking west as a Category 5 hurricane and is expected to impact Puerto Rico sometime Wednesday afternoon. The National Hurricane Center predicts it will hit the Miami area early Sunday morning, but after that models show a number of different paths the storm could take, depending on circumstances.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for the entire state ahead of Irma’s landfall there. Once it reaches south Florida, the hurricane could turn and travel up the east coast, or it could continue into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Liberty County Emergency Management Agency’s Samantha Abbgy said the staff there is monitoring the storm.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty in the projected path of this storm,” she said in an update. “There is a possibility that it could make a northern turn, but the National Weather Service is still uncertain of when that will be. We are still several days away from it making any contact with the United States. We will continue monitoring and notify you with any updates, as they become available.”
Category 5 storms have winds in excess of 157 mph. Matthew, by comparison, was a Category 1 when it brushed past Bryan County on Oct. 7-8, meaning it had winds of between 74 and 95 mph.
Bryan County Emergency Services Chief Freddy Howell had this advice should Hurricane Irma be forecast to impact our area: “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”
He said that was the main take-away after last October.
“If there is a chance it will impact us, the best thing to do is leave,” he said. “Have a plan in place and a place to go.”
The National Weather Service recommends taking several steps well ahead of time, including reviewing the season’s forecast, understanding evacuation routes and assembling a disaster kit.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says such a kit should include enough non-perishable food, water and medicine for each person in the family to last one week. You should also include in the kit extra cash (ATM and credit card machines won’t work if the power is out), a battery-powered radio and flashlights. A portable crank or solar powered USB charger can help keep cell phones and laptops functioning.
You can also check with your insurance agent to make sure your property is fully covered. Even if you don’t live in an area of Bryan County that requires flood insurance, you can still purchase a policy through the National Flood Insurance Program. Those policies, however, require a 30-day waiting period before they become effective, meaning it is too late now to purchase one for Hurricane Irma.
If you decide to stay and ride out the storm, make sure you have the appropriate materials cut to size to board up windows and doors. And if there is a mandatory evacuation and you still choose to stay, be prepared to go it alone as emergency services personnel will not respond to calls during that time.
“If you stay and something happens, there’s no guarantee you’ll even be able to get to a hospital,” Howell said.
For residents who have functional, access or medical needs that prevent them from evacuating and have no other resources such as friends or family to help them, the Bryan County Health Department offers a registry. Those on the registry would be evacuated to an American Red Cross shelter. People living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and personal care homes are not eligible for the registry and instead should follow their facility’s evacuation plans. Call (912) 756-2611 for details.