As Hurricane Irma barrels toward south Florida, officials in Bibb County are bracing for an expected influx of evacuees and some potentially nasty weather.
“This is a very large, very powerful storm,” Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency Director Spencer Hawkins said at a news conference. “I cannot stress this enough. Now is the time to prepare.”
Hurricane Irma has a 100-mile diameter and, as of late afternoon Wednesday, it was moving northeast at 16 miles per hour just 90 miles east of the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Hawkins said.
The track of the storm remained uncertain, but it is predicted to hit land in south Florida late Saturday or early Sunday.
“We may start seeing storm impacts late Monday into Tuesday,” Hawkins said. “It is important that everyone realize that there is a lot of determination still happening. The next 48 hours are going to be key.”
While significant rain and strong winds are probable, an increased number of folks coming to town is certain.
“Whether we get any weather effects from this storm at all, we are going to have traffic effects,” Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said. “Be mindful of people coming through.”
The sheriff encouraged local residents to take back roads to reduce traffic on the interstates.
“Show some hospitality to these individuals coming through here,” Davis said. “They’re coming through our town not knowing what they’re going to face when they go back home.”
Hawkins said there’s no estimate for how many evacuees will show up.
However, by Wednesday afternoon, all of the county’s 5,000 hotel rooms had been booked, said Gary Wheat, president and CEO of Macon-Bibb Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
“We’ve encouraged our hotels to be in constant contact with us” should a room come available, Wheat said.
The state government has created irma.georgia.org, a website for evacuees that shows all of the available hotel rooms throughout the state in a spreadsheet. Visitors also are encouraged to check www.visitmacon.org for updates, Wheat said.
For information about shelters, please visit http://www.redcross.org/.
For more on this story, return to Macon.com and read Thursday’s Telegraph.