Metro Atlanta still in 'monster' Hurricane Irma's path

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ATLANTA - The track of Hurricane Irma now has metro Atlanta taking a direct hit from the storm.

Maximum sustained winds dropped to 150 mph for Irma Friday morning.

[Gov. Deal warns Georgians: 'Be cautious, this is a dangerous hurricane"]

Severe Weather Team 2’s Katie Walls said the storm is expected to hit the Miami area as a Category 4 hurricane early Sunday morning.

Sunday evening, Irma is expected to weaken to a Category 3 storm as it moved up the middle of the state.

By Monday evening, the storm will continue to weaken and move into Georgia, eventually becoming a tropical storm as it reaches middle Georgia.

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Severe Weather Team 2's team of five meteorologists will be working non-stop throughout the next few days as Hurricane Irma gets closer to Georgia. Stay tuned to Channel 2 Action News and check back with WSBTV.com as we continue to track the storm's progress and the impact it will have on Georgia. 

Walls said the worst of what the metro will see will come late Monday night into Tuesday morning.

“At this point, preliminary totals 3 to 6 inches of rainfall. That means locations with poor drainage areas, we could be dealing with minor flooding,” Walls said.

Walls said the metro could see sustained winds of 40-50 mph, with 70 mph gusts not out of the question.  

"If you have things that could blow around, please bring them inside," Walls said.

Walls said there is a chance for isolated tornadoes. 

“Unfortunately, as that track nears Georgia and nears the metro, we will be looking at isolated tornado potential,” Walls said.

Storm surge along the Georgia coast may produce coastal flooding with each high tide from midday Saturday through Monday.

Walls said as we head through the day Tuesday, the storm will move out of the state, weakening to a tropical depression and things will taper off late into the day Tuesday.

Georgia National Guard prepares for Irma

A massive federal, state and local response is underway as Hurricane Irma churns closer to the East Coast.

Thursday afternoon, the Georgia National Guard set up its joint operations center.

Guard leaders told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant they have already marshaled a wide range of resources for when Irma hits Georgia and the missions start rolling in from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

“At this point, we’re watching the same storm you’re watching barreling across the Atlantic,” Brig. Gen. Thomas Carden, of the Georgia Army National Guard, told Diamant.

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The Georgia National Guard joint operations center in Cobb County is already up and running 24-7 while Irma rips a deadly path towards the Georgia coast.

“The minute we get a mission from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, we can move to the affected area and accomplish the mission at hand,” Carden said.

Carden described the resources ready to rollout.

“We have two engineer battalions, we have military police, we have a huge logistics capability, we have high water vehicles, we have power generation, we have the third largest non-attack aviation fleet of helicopters in the Army National Guard,” Carden told Diamant.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Hurricane Irma heads toward Georgia]

Another 14,000 guardsmen are also part of a massive federal, state and local interagency response and recovery effort.

As the picture of Irma’s path gets clearer by the hour, and a state of emergency expanded to 30 Georgia counties, Carden said the ops center will start staging assets just outside the areas they believe could be hardest hit.

“I feel confident that we’ll be able to respond quickly and efficiently, but depending on the size and the scope, it’s certainly going to be a challenge. We don’t expect it to be easy,” Carden said.

GEMA ready for anything Irma gives them

Channel 2’s Richard Elliot got inside the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security special operations center in southeast Atlanta.

Things were already busy several days from Irma’s predicted landfall in Georgia.

From this operation center, GEMA is able to coordinate the response all across the 30 counties now under a state of emergency. It is the same area hit hard by Hurricane Matthew almost a year ago.

“We’re putting all of the lessons learned that we have learned over the past few months into play on this one,” said Catherine Howden with GEMA Homeland Security.

GEMA is having to deal with Florida evacuees mixed in now with evacuees from the Georgia coast.

The state announced it will begin contraflow Saturday at 8 a.m., using both north and southbound lanes for cars along designated evacuation routes.

They’re also busy placing nearly 5,000 national guard troops in predesignated areas just outside the potential damage zone so they can respond quickly once the hurricane hits.

“I know that they are pre-staging. They are ready to help with contraflow on Saturday and so they are ready to go as well,” Howden told Elliot.

GEMA said the biggest worry is not knowing exactly where Irma will go and they may not know for sure for a few days. So they have to be ready for almost anything.

“We’re planning for whatever path hurricane Irma takes and what we’re urging is for people to take personal preparedness measures at this time as well,” Howden said.

The mandatory evacuations begin Saturday along with the contraflow, but that means a lot of people could be on the road at that time,

GEMA is urging that if you want to leave that area, now would be a good time.

GBI ready for grim task if needed

A team from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is preparing to do some of the most difficult work when it comes to hurricanes.

Georgia's chief state medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat, said the state morgue is preparing in case of any deaths that might happen from Hurricane Irma.

Eisenstattold Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that he hopes Georgians in the potential path of Hurricane Irma heed what evacuations may come and get out of harm's way.

“Please, please, leave if you're told to. Leave. We don’t ever want to have to be used. But if we are called, we’ll be ready,” Eisenstat said. “With the video images that we’ve seen from the Caribbean, and the power of this storm, if people don’t heed the warnings, we’ll be called in.”

The GBI said it has seven refrigerated mobile morgue trailers at the ready and other resources ready to deploy in the aftermath of Irma.

GBI Agent Bahan Rich indicated a 1994 flood that unearthed more than 400 caskets in Albany and a 2002 crematory case involving 300 bodies honed the GBI's grim skills at identifying human remains.

But Rich told Winne that he was one of the GBI agents dispatched after Katrina to help Mississippi and they found bodies.

“You felt like it didn’t have to happen. That they didn’t have to be there if they just heeded the warnings,” Rich told Winne.

“We're hoping nothing tragic happens, but if it does, everybody at the GBI -- we're one big family -- and we're there to help,” GBI agent Ennis Clark told Winne.

“We're praying for the best but preparing for the worst,” Rich said.

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