David Haire has spent all his 55 years in Tifton, which has served as one of the first stops for Floridians escaping hurricanes.
He said it seems the city is filling its usual role, acting as a waypoint for gas and lodging as a storm threatens the peninsula of 21 million people.
The storm sending Florida folks into Georgia is Hurricane Irma — a record-setting, swirling mass that killed three in the Caribbean while zipping toward the continental United States.
He’s seen tired parents in packed cars roll through town countless times, but he said something is different with Irma.
“I’ve just never seen so many people leave so early,” said Haire, spokesman with the Tift County Sheriff’s Office.
Gov. Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for six coastal counties Wednesday afternoon: Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh.
Essentially none of the Tifton’s 1,200 hotel rooms are left, Haire said, and both of the city’s Walmarts have run out of gas.
By 3 p.m. Wednesday, the traffic along the Georgia-Florida line was three times the average for that area, said Natalie Dale, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
She said that contractors started this past weekend clearing the road shoulders of debris and removing flood-inducing blockages from drains ahead of the storm, wherever it goes.
Dale said the state would continue to monitor the storm and how Georgia’s drivers, including those who just entered the state, need help.
“Recognize that many of our Florida neighbors are coming our way,” she advised Georgia drivers. “Be prepared to adjust local travel plans recognizing that certain routes (interstates, notably) may be more congested than usual.”