Hurricane Irma, a powerful Category 5 storm that has killed at least three people in the Caribbean and is barreling toward the United States, is expected to reach Miami, Florida, about 2 p.m. Sunday.
Coastal Georgia could see landfall 24 hours later, according to Channel 2 Action News.
As of 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, Irma has sustained 185 mph winds for more than 24 hours and is wider than the peninsula of Florida. The storm shows no signs of weakening.
In response, Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in six coastal Georgia counties: Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh.
Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said his agency is taking part in briefings with state and federal emergency officials. The current forecasted track shows that hurricane force winds could reach Brunswick by Monday night or Tuesday morning, Lynch said, and Savannah by Tuesday afternoon or evening.
Deal also issued an executive order banning price gouging at the gas pumps and waiving transportation restrictions for drivers ferrying emergency supplies.
Due to Wednesday morning weather models, a state of emergency was declared in South Carolina. Earlier, states of emergency were declared in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
More than 850 flights to and from Caribbean islands have been canceled, along with hundreds at Florida airports, ABC News reported.
As of 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, the eye of Irma had left the Virgin Islands and was skirting Puerto Rico, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said.
“Message is still the same,” Channel 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan said. “Florida has to watch this closely. Anywhere in the Southeast has to watch this closely.”
That includes North Georgia and much of the coast.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s website, ready.ga.gov. says residents who live along the coast, close to a river or an island waterway should stay alert for evacuation instructions. Mobile homes and high-rise buildings are especially at risk when high winds are expected.
For people evacuating with animals, the Georgia Department of Agriculture has temporarily suspended Animal Interstate Movement Health Requirements for entry into Georgia. The suspension applies to animals entering Georgia from Florida only. For more information regarding the suspended requirements, visit www.agr.georgia.gov/gda-hurricane-response.aspx.
Atlanta Motor Speedway in Henry County is opening Thursday for people seeking temporary refuge. The facility is accustomed to handling thousands of campers for NASCAR events. Evacuees will have free access to hot showers and restroom facilities, speedway officials said.
In Alabama, Talladega Superspeedway will offer a portion of its campgrounds — which will include hot showers and restroom facilities, as well as water hookups on gravel and grassy areas — free to evacuees beginning Thursday.
“Our track is committed to helping our friends in Florida and the surrounding states during this time of need,” Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch stated of the venue, which is located just off I-20 between Atlanta and Birmingham. “We hope to provide a sense of relief by offering a place to stay for no charge for evacuees during this time of adversity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the path of the storm.”
It is too soon to know exactly how the hurricane will affect weather locally. But Monahan said to expect “some potential impacts as early as next week.”
The storm reached landfall in the northeast Caribbean about 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in Atlanta are keeping track of the storm, Channel 2 reported.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hurricane Jose formed in the Atlantic, far from land and well east of the powerful Hurricane Irma. Also, Hurricane Katia has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, Channel 2 meteorologist Brad Nitz said.
But, “Irma is churning up cooler water and that will diminish Jose's potential strengthening a little if it moves over the same locations,” Nitz said.
The Savannah College of Art and Design is pushing back its start to the school year. Officials at the school will relocate students at 11 a.m. Thursday and be closed Friday.
“Due to the magnitude of the storm and the uncertainty of Hurricane Irma's path, SCAD will postpone the start of classes for Savannah, Atlanta and eLearning for one week,” the school posted on its website.
Now is the time for off-campus students to make plans to relocate should emergency officials issue a mandatory evacuation, the school said.
Irma also sparked the largest evacuation in the history of the Bahamas, Channel 2 reported.