Gov. Deal: Stay away from Georgia coast in days to come

Gov. Nathan Deal and state officials Friday urged Georgians to stay away from the coast until given the all-clear in the days to come.

Deal said state agencies must assess hurricane-affected areas once Matthew moves away from the state.

“Don’t put yourself in greater jeopardy by trying to return too soon,” Deal said.

Deal spoke with President Barack Obama on Thursday and asked that he sign an order declaring a federal emergency. Obama did so that night. On Friday, the president urged those along the coast to remain vigilant.

"Those of you who live in Georgia I think should be paying attention because there's been a lot of emphasis on Florida, but this thing is going to keep on moving north, through Florida, into South Carolina," Obama said at the White House. "There are large population centers there that could be vulnerable, so pay attention to what your local officials are telling you."

In a news conference at the state Capitol, Deal and the heads of key state agencies updated the situation along the coast and advised anyone who has not yet evacuated that it’s too late.

“For those still in the path of the storm, stay indoors during the hurricane and away from windows and glass doors,” Jim Butterworth, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said. “Emergency response may not be available for up to 72 hours after Matthew has passed. First responders will not be allowed to respond in conditions that endanger their personal safety.”

Butterworth said 9,000 Georgians are in shelters across the state but that there are 13,000 spaces available. More than 900 hospital patients and 116 long-term care patients have been evacuated.

The state has more than 1,000 members of the National Guard in the area.

Butterworth and Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said they are ending the reversal of the west bound lanes of I-16 from Savannah to Macon although the east bound lanes in that area will remain closed.

Department of Community Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald said four hospitals in the affected area have been evacuated, including more than 1,000 patients. Eighteen critical-care patients were airlifted. Dozens of Georgia doctors and nurses have volunteered to help treat patients once the storm passes and Deal said he signed an order allowing out-of-state medical professionals to treat patients here as well.

Col. Mark McDonough, chief executive of the Department of Public Safety, said once the storm clears his officers will help utility companies and debris removal teams enter the area. He, too, urged those who evacuated to be patient.

“Hold up on those plans,” he said. “Wait a while. Be patient. Give us the time to restore things before you think about going back in.”

McMurray said DOT bridge inspectors will be deployed Saturday to inspect bridges and culverts. The Talmadge Bridge in Savannah and the Lanier Bridge in Brunswick will not re-open until they are inspected.

“That cannot happen until the water and the flooding recedes,” McMurry said. “So again, first order of priority is to get the damage assessment done. With the flooding that was predicted there’s a real possibility that we can have roadway failures.”