South Georgia wary of Dorian: ‘I don’t know if we can stand another one’

As Hurricane Dorian continued moving toward the U.S. with increasing intensity and a possible shift to the northwest that could have a greater than anticipated impact in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp late Thursday afternoon declared a state of emergency in 12 Georgia counties.

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State agencies are ready to assist Brantley, Bryan, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Pierce and Wayne counties with preparations, response and recovery, Kemp said.

Residents on the Georgia coast and in southwest Georgia, an area still recovering from the devastating impact of Hurricane Michael last year, monitored the storm’s path with increasing concern.

“Right now everybody does have their eyes on all the weather information that is coming out. It’s just hard to tell right now,” said Jeremy Kichler, a University of Georgia extension agent in Colquitt County, which provides agricultural information to farmers. “It seems like these models are just all over the place. A lot of folks are still recovering from Irma two years ago and Michael last year. I don’t know if we can stand another one.”

Crops in the area, particularly pecans and cotton, suffered about $2.5 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael. Farmers are still feeling the effects. “Economically, we are still trying to recover from last year,” Kichler said.

As of Saturday morning, Dorian had intensified to a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph. Forecasters are unsure where the storm will ultimately make landfall along the southeastern coast next week. But Georgia could be in the crosshairs.

Kemp urged Georgia residents to be ready to respond quickly to any changes in the storm’s path. “At the very least, we are going to see rain in some parts of our state, potentially heavy, which could bring flooding,” Kemp said at a noon press conference, noting that Georgia could see winds greater than 39 mph and rainfall of 2-4 inches in some areas through early next week.

The storm presents an early challenge for Kemp, who was sworn into office earlier this year. He appears to be taking the same approach as former Gov. Nathan Deal, who adopted a better-safe-than-sorry strategy to storms in his final years in office.

That proactive response came after poor communication and slow government response to the disastrous 2014 ice storm that became an embarrassing debacle for the state.

State officials said they've learned from their mistakes, and a weather task force appointed after the storm prompted officials to buy more equipment and improve coordination.

Local agencies are already preparing for potential evacuations from Florida, which would impact traffic in Georgia over the holiday weekend. The Department of Transportation was conducting sweeps of the roadways to ensure they are clear in advance of the storm, Kemp said.

Also in metro Atlanta, businesses began making early plans to address possible impacts from the storm. Atlanta Motor Speedway announced it would open its camping facilities to any evacuees seeking refuge from Hurricane Dorian. The speedway in Hampton is offering thousands of RV and tent campers free access to the grounds and bath house.

While the effects of Dorian are likely to be felt across the state, experts say the realm of possibilities is still pretty big. Forecasting models are most reliable three days out, said Hermann Fritz, an engineering professor at Georgia Tech with extensive experience in hurricane storm surge and coastal and inland flooding. While it is possible that Dorian could impact southwest Georgia, it isn’t currently the most likely scenario, he said. “I would be way more concerned about North Florida and South Georgia on the Atlantic side right now,” he said.

But residents in southwest Georgia can’t help but worry just a bit.

Chad Cooper, pastor of First Baptist Church Colquitt, said he paid little attention to Dorian’s path until Thursday morning, when he traveled to Tallahassee, Florida, and saw customers buying food and other supplies from a store there. “It kind of put me more on alert,” he said.

Just thinking about the possibility of another storm hitting the area made him tired, he said. “I kind of don’t want to be alarmist,” said Cooper, adding that the church will be prepared to provide whatever is needed.

Cooper, after all, is a man of faith and he credits God for supplying what the church needed during and after Michael. "We believe we can trust him and he can provide for us," Cooper said.

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