Coastal Georgia officials urged residents Wednesday to stock up on supplies, stay indoors and remain vigilant as Hurricane Florence approaches but they stopped short of ordering anyone to evacuate.
The storm could bring rain and tropical storm-force wind as soon as Thursday at 8 p.m., they said, adding the risks of flooding and storm surge damage are low.
“Based on what we are seeing, we don’t feel the evacuation order is needed for this particular event,” Dennis Jones, Chatham County’s director of emergency management, told reporters at a news conference.
“We encourage people to make their own decisions. You don’t have to have an evacuation order in order to get out of town. If you do feel like you need to leave for the safety of your family, then we encourage you to do that.”
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Jones added the county is in a “full readiness posture.”
“All of our emergency support functions are activated,” he said. “We are ready to implement a next phase, if we happen to go that direction.”
Within two hours, more than 500 comments were posted under the Facebook video of the county’s news conference. Some people like Belinda Miller wondered about the county’s decision not to order an evacuation.
“Are we going to evacuate,” she posted. “Please let us get to safety sooner rather than later.”
Moments later, Miller posted: “Please evacuate us.” And then: “Let us evacuate!!”
Shawna Morris agreed: “Idiotic to not evacuate.”
Others said it’s a personal decision.
“You don’t need permission,” posted Susan Williams Hoag.
And Michelle Nelson: “If you feel unsafe, get to high ground.”
Others predicted no trouble.
“Savannah will be fine,” posted Charles Shepard.
Aaron Shirk added: “Relax people. Stay away from the beach and out of the waterways.”
Glynn County, Ga., officials are sending a message similar to their counterparts in Chatham.
“Right now, what we are advising folks to do is continue to monitor the storm, stay alert, be prepared, stay safe. We don’t want people panicking,” said Jay Wiggins, director of Glynn’s Emergency Management/Homeland Security Agency, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just before noon Wednesday.
“It is an absolutely historic storm, as far as the size and intensity. And, of course, we have seen a very slight shift to the south, which would increase our chances of seeing some impacts,” Wiggins continued. “Make sure you have an emergency kit. Make sure you have medication, flashlights, batteries, a radio -- the typical things we encourage folks to do at this time of year.”
Asked about the possibility of a mandatory evacuation, Wiggins said “if that became necessary or the situation were to change to call for that, we would start pushing that information out as soon as possible. But at his time there is nothing to indicate that we would need to call for an evacuation.”
County workers, Wiggins said, are topping off their gas tanks, preparing equipment for severe weather and keeping in close contact with local utilities.
Meanwhile, waterfront businesses on Savannah’s River Street were keeping a close eye on the weather forecasts. Among them was Spanky’s, “The Home of the Original Chicken Finger,” which was offering discounts on food to hurricane evacuees from the Carolinas and Virginia. Some from Myrtle Beach dined there Wednesday, said Stephanie Thompson, the restaurant’s bar manager. She described them as “hesitant.”
“We are monitoring the storm, just like everybody is,” said Thompson, whose restaurant looks out onto the Savannah River. “But from a business perspective we cannot make a lot of premature decisions, so we are just kind of hanging out.”
Nearby, the Shrimp Factory on River Street took a similar approach and began to see business pick up Wednesday afternoon.
“Staying open. Business is normal,” said the restaurant’s manager, Tony Creed. He added about the storm: “We are watching it and staying up to date with it.”