Hurricane Irma: Deal orders mandatory evacuation of coastal Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal issued a mandatory evacuation order Thursday for all areas east of I-95 and other parts of the state’s coast as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida and Georgia with potentially catastrophic force.

The governor's executive order also authorized up to 5,000 Georgia National Guard members to be on active duty to respond to the deadly storm. And he expanded a state of emergency to 30 southeast Georgia counties.

Deal has set a 10 a.m. press conference on Friday with the head of Georgia’s emergency management agency and other public safety officials to outline the state’s storm response.

“I encourage all Georgians in our coastal areas that could be impacted by this storm to evacuate the area as soon as possible,” said Deal.

The mandatory evacuation order includes all of Chatham County and some areas west of I-95 that also could be impacted by Irma’s storm surge. The governor’s office said the evacuation order takes effect on Saturday.

The storm, which has already killed at least 10 people in the Caribbean, has created traffic delays across the state as roads are flooded with evacuees fleeing its path. Many hotels are fully booked, and Deal signed an executive order banning price gouging and waiving transportation restrictions for drivers ferrying emergency supplies.

The 30 counties under a state of emergency are: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Bryan, Bulloch, Burke, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Coffee, Echols, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans, Glynn, Jenkins, Jeff Davis, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Pierce, Screven, Tattnall, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne and Ware counties.

The storm tests Deal's overhauled storm response strategy anew, and it is the most significant challenge yet for the new head of the state's emergency management agency.

Deal tapped Homer Bryson, a former corrections commissioner, to lead the agency shortly after Hurricane Matthew killed four people and left tens of millions of damage in its wake after scraping the shoreline in October.

He replaced Jim Butterworth, who publicly announced he was leaving state government shortly after the storm. Documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed internal friction between Butterworth and one of the agency’s top officials over the state’s handling of the response.