Kathy Lockhart, owner of Nature Gifts, places sandbags to prepare Hurricane Hermine at her store on Mallery Street near St. Simons Island Pier on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency Thursday in 56 South Georgia counties due to Tropical Storm Hermine, which was upgraded to a hurricane about 3 p.m. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Shelters open as Georgia prepares for Hurricane Hermine

South Georgians are bracing for the impact of Hurricane Hermine, which had outer bands bringing waves and rain shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday.

Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in 56 counties in southeast Georgia.

“We are working to ensure counties in south, central and coastal Georgia have access to the state resources necessary to prepare and respond when (Hurricane) Hermine enters Georgia,” Deal said in a news release. “Our Emergency Operations Command will continue closely monitoring this storm, and additional counties may be included in this declaration as needed.”

Hermine, a category 1 hurricane, is expected to make landfall about 11 p.m. Thursday, Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said.

PHOTOS: Georgia, Florida prep for Hurricane Hermine

This will be the first hurricane to hit Florida since 2005.

Public parks, schools and 23 high school football games have been canceled or postponed because of Hermine. About 5 p.m., the Red Cross scheduled five shelters to open Thursday night for those affected. Valdosta State University canceled classes starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday through 5 p.m. Friday. Dorms and dining halls will remain open.

Georgia Southern’s Statesboro campus & Coastal Georgia Center and Fort Pulaski National Monument in Savannah are closed Friday. Also, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is closed Friday.

Nitz said the weather will rapidly decline over the next few hours.

“Overnight and into early (Friday) morning, Hermine weakens slightly to a tropical storm, with 60 mph sustained winds and the potential for flooding rainfall, and there will be some impacts on the backside of this system for metro Atlanta,” Nitz said.

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Areas south of Athens into Putnam County and east central Georgia could pick up between 3 and 5 inches of rain through Saturday morning.

There is a 30 percent chance of rain Thursday, a 70 percent chance Friday and a 10 percent chance Saturday in metro Atlanta.

“So we are going to be looking at some minimal hurricane winds of 75 miles an hour, which can do plenty of damage,” Channel 2 meteorologist Karen Minton said. “And of course that onshore flow can bring some flooding with very heavy rain across this area.”

Flash-flood watches will remain in effect through 8 a.m. Saturday in Putnam County and portions of central, east and South Georgia, according to the National Weather Service.

The more damaging impacts, however, are expected to pass South Georgia by Saturday morning.

Temperatures were 76 degrees in Atlanta, 77 in Blairsville and 83 in Griffin just before 8 p.m. Thursday.