ATLANTA — Hurricane Matthew weakened to a Category 2 storm Friday afternoon as it started to have an impact on the Georgia coast.
The storm skirted the coast of Florida throughout Friday and has yet to make landfall.
We have a team of reporters up and down the coast bringing you the latest Hurricane Matthew on the Channel 2 Action News Nightbeat at 11 p.m.
Currently, Matthew is packing sustained winds of 110 mph, with gusts up to 130 mph. It is moving north at about 12 mph.
Severe Weather Team 2 chief meteorologist Glenn Burns said the storm will create quite a storm surge as it comes up along the Georgia coast.
“It will move very close to Savannah and Hilton Head as we get near 2 a.m. overnight tonight, with winds of 105 mph,” Burns said. “Most of those winds will stay offshore.”
The storm will continue along the coast, getting very close to Charleston as a Category 1 storm around 2 p.m. Saturday, with sustained winds of around 90 mph.
- Hurricane Matthew weakened to a Category 2 storm Friday afternoon
- The storms is moving parallel to the Florida coast
- It is expected to move off the coast off Georgia around 8 p.m. with 115 mph winds
- Storm will move to the east and loop back down south
- Hurricane will have little to no impact in metro Atlanta
“I do believe we’re going to see a tremendous amount of wind and wave action. Combine that with some unbelievable rainfall totals,” Burns said.
The storm will then move out to sea, weakening as it becomes a tropical storm around 2 p.m. Sunday.
Already, many areas of Florida and the southern coast of Georgia have seen storm surge flooding from Matthew.
“The storm surge is the rise of the ocean level. The waves are on top of that,” Severe Weather Team 2’s Brad Nitz said.
Nitz said as of 5:30 p.m., the barrier islands in Georgia had already seen a 6- to 9-foot rise in the ocean level.
“The flooding looks to be the greatest threat with this storm,” Nitz said. “There is the possibility of increased wind damage."
Hurricane-force winds will be very near the Georgia coast around 9 p.m. Friday, skirting the area around St. Simons.
Tropical-storm-strength winds will affect all of the coast as the storm passes throughout the evening.
Nitz said parts of the Georgia and South Carolina coast could see 10-15 inches of rain.
Tybee Island is under a mandatory evacuation order. Thousands of people have boarded up their homes and left but Channel 2’s Richard Elliot found many people are riding out the storm.
Elliot traveled to Savannah and met up with two metro Atlanta soldiers with the Georgia National Guard who are experiencing their first hurricane.
The guard is joining local law enforcement to help keep the peace especially after the hurricane comes through.
Elliot and his photographer followed along as the Georgia National Guard Humvee patrolled down Bay Street in downtown Savannah Friday.
“We've got a lot of people down here who are suffering from the extent of the water damage. We're here to help local law enforcement maintain order and show a presence that we're here to help,” said Sgt. Austin York, with the Georgia National Guard.
Elliot saw some of those local law enforcement officers patrolling Tybee Island Friday before they pulled out for safer ground.
Not far away, Elliot found Kenny Adams with Blackmon Mooring Restoration trying to figure out how to get into South Carolina. His company was hired to board up grocery stores there.
“We’re trying to head to Hilton Head so we can board up a Whole Foods,” Adams said.
Just minutes earlier, the Georgia Department of Transportation put up signs closing the iconic Talmadge Bridge in South Carolina because of worries of high wind gusts later in the day.
“Road's shut down, can't get across the river. We're going to go now,” Adams said. “I'm going to take 16 to 95 north.”
Back in Savannah, both York and Spc. Aaron Findley said this is their first hurricane. They're rain soaked, but ready to work.
“So far, it's very wet, a little sleep deprived, but we're ready to go,” Findley told Elliot.
Both soldiers are with the military police. They have arrest powers but mainly, they're there for hurricane relief.
RED CROSS SHELTERS:
Traffic flow from the coast will help determine if the Red Cross will have to open more shelters.
The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security director said about 9,000 people were in shelters Friday.
Channel 2's Carl Willis was with hundreds of evacuees in Macon Friday as they watched and waited from the safety of Red Cross shelters.
Antonia McIver was part of the influx of evacuees from Brunswick taking shelter here in Macon, Bibb County.
"They have five or six buses. We were coming in by the 50s," McIver told Willis.
"Everybody is getting the heck out of harm's way," evacuee Ginger Ramirez said.
And McIver said this isn't the first time she's needed the Red Cross in the face of a disaster. Hurricane Katrina pushed her out of her home in New Orleans.
“I'm going through it again,” McIver told Willis. “This here is a burden, but maybe God does everything for a reason.”
There are a total of 30 shelter locations and about 9,000 evacuees taking advantage of them.
Connie Hensler with the Red Cross said they're working to make sure people are safe and comfortable.
“I know we've looked at staffing our shelters especially through the long weekend Monday, but we will continue to be open as long as there's a need,” Hensler said.
There are three shelters online in Macon. The emergency management center spokesperson told Willis they are watching traffic to determine if more shelter space will be needed.
"We know that the interstate has gone back to two-way closer to Savannah and people will start going returning in the next couple of days," said Chris Floore with Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management.
Flore said they have about 150 spaces open. If they fill those, there is a fourth shelter that could open.
Gov. Nathan Deal issued a mandatory evacuation order Thursday for six coastal counties as the storm was approaching the U.S. coast. He said Friday that Pres. Obama called him Thursday and they spoke about the evacuations.
Drivers cannot head east on Interstate 16 between Dublin and Savannah.
Both sides of the highway are for people to leave the coast headed west.
This is the first time since Hurricane Floyd in 1999 that the eastbound lanes were opened for westbound traffic.
Pres. Obama spoke to the nation Friday and urged people in Georgia to evacuate if they are told to.
“For those of you who live in Georgia, you should be paying attention, because there's been a lot of emphasis on Florida, because this thing is going to continue moving north through Florida to South Carolina," Obama said.
The president told everyone to pay attention to local officials, because a storm surge can move very quickly.
At Savannah's emergency operations center, officials said they are as ready as they can be.
"The city is mobilizing its resources to be prepared to one, protect those resources, but two, to be able to provide services after impact and take care of people that may not have evacuated," Savannah Mayor David Donnelly told Channel 2's Richard Elliot.
Elliot spoke with one woman Thursday night who said she's not evacuating because her elderly grandmother refuses to leave. They're going to ride it out.
Georgia DOT is closing two area bridges Friday until further notice. The Sidney Lanier Bridge on SR 25 in Brunswick-Glynn County closed at 10 a.m.; the Talmadge Memorial Bridge (U.S. 17) in Savannah-Chatham County will close at noon. After the storm, the bridges will be inspected for safety and an announcement will be made about when they will reopen.
I-16 from Savannah to Dublin is westbound only. Contra flow has ended and the eastbound lanes are closed from Statesboro to Savannah.
The Georgia Department of Transportation continues to work with the Georgia Emergency Management and theHomeland Security Agency (GEMHSA) and the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) to contraflow Interstate 16 from Savannah through US 441 in Dublin to allow evacuation traffic to use all four lanes for travel west. Georgia DOT highway emergency response operators and GSP formed 13 strike teams to facilitate the evacuation process, which began Thursday.
Drivers are also encouraged to use evacuation routes:
In the St Mary/Brunswick area, to travel inland, take evacuation route SR 520/U.S. 82 west to I-75.
For coastal Georgia areas, take westerly evacuation routes, such as:
- SR 32 west to I-75 North
- SR 520 west to I-75 North
- SR 341 to McRae to U.S. 441 North to I-16
Regions including Clinch, Ware, Pierce, Atkinson and Bacon counties:
- Take evacuation route SR 520/U.S. 82 west to I-75
- SR 32 west to I-75 North
- Regions including Lowndes and Brooks counties:
- Take I-75 North
- Regions including Colquitt, Tift and Turner counties:
- SR 520 west to I-75 North
- Take I-75 North
To avoid heavy traffic in the Macon area, use I-16 west to I-75 south to I-475. The exit ramp from westbound I-16 to northbound I-75 has been converted to two lanes to accommodate evacuating traffic.
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