Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday said that Hurricane Irma could be more devastating to Georgia than last year's Hurricane Matthew.
“This is considered an extremely dangerous, category 4 hurricane, with winds of more than 150 miles per hour,” Deal said in a news conference with other state officials. “We all remember the tremendous levels of destruction from Hurricane Matthew, and this one has the potential to be even more devastating to our state.”
On Thursday, Deal activated 5,000 National Guardsmen to be on call, and expanded the number of counties under a state of emergency to 30.
Deal said on Friday that it is "very likely" that number could be expanded.
Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, said the agency plans to have 50 emergency shelters and 7,000 beds open by Saturday morning to house Irma evacuees.
"The timing does not appear to be as favorable as with Hurricane Matthew, which hit at low tide,” Deal said. “By shifting westward, it does have the capacity of slowing the winds, but we could be looking at tornadoes that could develop afterward."
On Thursday, Deal extended the state of emergency that exists as the hurricane approaches to 30 counties on Thursday, and issued a mandatory evacuation order for all areas east of I-95 and all of Chatham County, where Savannah is located.
"We’re not going to go out into someone’s home if they don’t want to leave, but we’re not going to go into an area that has already been mandatorily evacuated when we’re working in other areas," Deal said. "We will respond to those areas as the situation dictates."
During Friday's briefing, Georgia DOT commissioner Russell McMurry outlined the process by which a section of I-16 eastbound lanes from Dublin to Savannah will be reversed to allow westbound traffic.
Here is the contraflow process:
1. Barricade is in place on I-16 EB at SR 25 in Laurens to allow evacuation traffic to use all four lanes in a WB direction.
2. A median crossover on I-16 east of I-95 crosses traffic over onto I-16 EB lanes to travel WB. A cross-over on I-16 at SR 26 (MP 38) in Laurens County directs traffic back to regular WB lanes prior to arrival in Macon.
3. All EB access at interchanges are blocked from Dublin to Savannah.
4. Travelers may exit contraflow lanes (traveling WB on usual EB lanes) at designated interchanges at:
- Exit 143 @SR 30/US 280/J.O. Bacon Hwy.
- Exit 116 @ SR 73/US 301/US 25
- Exit 104 @ SR 23/SR-121
- Exit 90 @ SR4/US 1
- Exit 71 @ SR 15/SR 78
- Exit 67 @ SR 29/Hugh M. Gillis Sr.Hwy.
- Exit 51 @ SR 31/US 319/US 441
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams said the state is opening up parks campgrounds to evacuees.
Deal called on all Georgians to pray for the safety of those impacted by the storm.
“Emergencies bring out the best in Georgians,” Deal said. “We are a resilient state, but sometimes repetition causes us to lose our caution. So be cautious; this is a dangerous hurricane, but we will get through this.”