Putnam prepares for Irma

Traffic from Florida is lined up on the Gray Highway beside Wal-Mart Friday afternoon as evacuees flee Florida to escape Hurricane Irma’s forecasted wrath.

By Lynn Hobbs


Friday afternoon, Eatonton and Putnam County officials said they are ready and waiting for Hurricane Irma.

“We are working and preparing for the worst, and praying for the best,” Eatonton Police Chief Kent Lawrence said.

While talking with The Messenger, the chief also talked via phone with City Administrator Gary Sanders, Putnam County Charter Schools Superintendent Eric Arena, and even Jet 24 gas station Manager Evelyn Lawson.

“She said they just got a (gasoline tanker) truck in and just filled up and are ready for the crowds,” Lawrence said, noting he knew Wal-Mart in Eatonton had run out of gas, but was unsure if it, too, had received a new supply.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who also serves as the county’s Emergency Management Agency director, said his main concern Friday was the vehicle traffic.

“There is a very significant increase in traffic coming from the Gray Highway, and most of the cars has a Florida tag,” he noted.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Irma had passed Cuba Friday afternoon and was expected to hit southern Florida early Sunday. Although it has been downgraded to a Category 4, from a “Major Hurricane” to a “Hurricane”, it will still have high winds and leavie a trail of destruction in its wake.

At 2 p.m. Friday, its maximum sustained wind speed was 155 mph and it was moving west at 14 mph.

The NHC forecast Irma would hit northern Florida at 8 a.m. Monday, with forecasted wind intensity speeds of 74-110 mph, going through Georgia and hitting the northwestern corner of Georgia at 8 a.m. Tuesday as a Tropical Depression (wind speed less than 39 mph).

“It does not appear to me it’s going to be anything other than a tropical storm, based on what we’re seeing, although that could change at any moment,” Sills said of the storm when it hits Putnam County. “More than likely, we will have trees down like we do with any other severe thunderstorm.”
The sheriff will have both of his department’s shifts working Monday, he said, noting neighboring sheriffs’ departments are sending personnel to help in the coastal areas where damage is expected to be worse, “but I am so short-handed, I don’t have that luxury of helping anybody else.”

Both the county and the City of Eatonton have maintenance crews, generators, gasoline, chainsaws, trucks and equipment ready to clear away damage Monday, in case something happens, Sills and Lawrence said.

No official emergency shelters have been set up, Sills said, but some churches have told him they are willing to operate as a shelter, if needed. If the need arises, call the 9-1-1 dispatcher, and they will get in touch with the church.

School Superintendent Eric Arena said he is waiting until the National Weather briefing Saturday to decide whether or not to close Putnam County schools Monday. A robocall will go out to parents to let them know, he said.


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