County preparing for Hurricane Irma (Friday update)
Current weather predictions indicate that Hurricane Irma may turn her western shoulder on White County. Forecasters say there is potential for high winds, spin-off tornadoes and increased rainfall.
White County citizens are urged to prepare for possible impacts.
“We could experience tropical-force winds,” said White County public safety director David Murphy, during a meeting of the county emergency management team Friday, Sept. 8.
Murphy encourages people to have a NOAA weather radio handy and to sign up for Code Red alerts. You can sign up by going to www.whitecounty.net/public-safety/emergency-management and clicking on the red square that says “Register for Emergency Alerts.”
The team will discuss an updated weather model Sunday at noon, as predictions will likely change.
White County could experience sustained winds of 35 to 40 mph, and gusts of 70 mph. It could receive 2.8 to 3.5 inches of rainfall in a very short time.
Murphy reminded the public that rain and wind combined could prove problematic, especially following the drought that the area ended earlier this year.
Hurricane activity brings an increased tornado threat. An EF-2 tornado hit Helen in 2005 as an offshoot of Hurricane Katrina.
Sheriff Neal Walden said people should be careful of flim-flam artists that follow on the heels of disasters. And he said the sheriff’s office will not tolerate “gawkers” people who want to drive around and to see how bad things got.
The county’s Community Emergency Response Team will be on standby to help with traffic direction or even the removal of trees by chain saw.
County commission chair Travis Turner, also at the meeting, encouraged the various public safety departments to communicate any needs they may have.
“We are one team,” he said. “There’s no boundaries. We are all looking out for our neighbors.”
'Safe haven' shelters could open if needed
Murphy said three safe-haven shelters have been designated for people who live in sub-standard housing, mobile homes or RVs who may feel threatened due to the weather conditions. These facilities are for local residents, not for travelers who arrive here after evacuating from other areas.
The safe havens, however, will be opened if warnings indicate severe weather, tornadoes or damaging winds, if the Storm Predictions Center issues a Tornado Watch for White County, or if local officials determine they are necessary.
The safe havens are:
• Friendship Baptist Church, 3513 Westmoreland Road, Cleveland; 706-865-0722
• The White County Emergency Operations Center, 1241 Helen Highway, Cleveland, 706-865-9500
• Mt. Yonah Elementary School, 1161 Duncan Bridge Road, Sautee Nacoochee, 706-865-3514
Murphy said people should bring the following items with them to a safe-haven shelter with them: snacks for themselves and family; medications; activities for kids and adults; and any immediate essentials the family may need.
As far as having an emergency shelter, Murphy said one would only be activated in the event of widespread damage from a tornado or other disaster, or if requested by the Red Cross.
For information about the safe havens, call the Emergency Operations Center, 706-865-9500, or the 24-hour dispatch center, 706-865-0911.
School closing to be determined
There’s a possibility that school may have to be closed Monday. White County School Superintendent Jeff Wilson will have to make that decision based on weather models Sunday afternoon.
“If they are predicting gale-force winds, we have no choice,” he said. “That would be a danger to buses.”
He will send the information to media and through regular channels if that becomes necessary.
Officials urge caution over gas panic
Gasoline may become scarce, with evacuees from Florida and South Georgia coming to North Georgia.
“Don’t panic and top off – that adds to the shortage,” Cleveland Police Chief John Foster said. “As far as I know, Colonial (gas pipeline) is still open and flowing.”
Emergency vehicles will need that gasoline should the county experience flash flooding or high winds.