Hurricane Irma: Savannah and Brunswick ports batten down the hatches

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Hurricane Irma: Savannah and Brunswick ports batten down the hatches

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Six cranes load and unload containers Friday, May 12, 2017 at the Port of Savannah from the Cosco Development. J. Scott Trubey/strubey@ajc.com

The empty containers are tied down. The towering cranes that load the huge metal boxes onto ships are in the process of being secured.

And soon Georgia’s bustling port in Savannah will be closed to ride out the fury of Hurricane Irma.

Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, which operates shipping complexes in Savannah and Brunswick, said Friday crews were preparing for the worst to protect the ports from the mighty storm.

The latest forecasts have the Category 5 storm marching toward the western side of the Florida peninsula and up the I-75 corridor toward Orlando. Then its on to South Georgia and eventually to metro Atlanta.

“We’re still acting as if it’s coming this way,” Lynch said in an interview.

“I think central Georgia is more at risk right now, but the cone is still over Savannah,” Lynch said of the danger zone known as the Cone of Uncertainty. “The professionals say anything could happen.”

The Brunswick port closed Friday. Lynch said crews will work into the night and early morning Saturday in Savannah to see the last ship off from the Garden City Terminal complex. The Savannah port will close Saturday morning.

Mandatory evacuations have already been issued for coastal areas.

Closing the ports, vital engines in Georgia’s logistics sector, is a rarity. About 10,000 truck trips happen at the Savannah terminal each day, with a few thousand workers loading and unloading ships.

The ports are one of the state’s economic jewels. Materials coming off ships in Savannah and Brunswick, or American exports being loaded onto vessels there, often stop at distribution points near Atlanta before continuing the journey.

As operations prepare to wind down, Lynch said his team is focused on re-entry after the storm. The ports plan to reopen on Wednesday, and Lynch said the authority is working with the U.S. Coast Guard to be sure the Savannah River is open and ready for business after Irma clears.

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