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This is a developing story and will be updated as Hurricane Ian progresses.
Hurricane Ian has been updated to a Category 4 hurricane as the storm rapidly intensifies and inches toward the Florida coast, threatening to bring life-threatening storm surges, torrential rain and hurricane gusts.
According to the National Hurricane Center, as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Ian is moving north at 9 mph with maximum sustained wind speeds of 155 mph, nearing a Category 5 hurricane.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis estimated that some 2.5 million residents were under evacuation orders with mandatory evacuations primarily extended to those living in low-lying areas as well as mobile homes and trailers.
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To prepare for any potential impact later in the week for Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the activation of the State Operations Center on Monday. On Tuesday, Kemp declared Georgia in a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Ian making landfall along Florida’s west coast.
2pm EDT 28 Sep -- Hurricane #Ian is very near the coast of southwestern Florida Peninsula.
Maximum sustained winds remain near 155 mph with a minimum central pressure of 937 mb found by an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter (@53rdWRS).
Latest: https://t.co/tnOTyg5UEw pic.twitter.com/5rhfzUltE5
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 28, 2022
Chatham County placed under Hurricane Watch, local state of emergency declared as Ian makes landfall
Chatham County can expect to see the impact from Hurricane Ian beginning tomorrow evening, according to Chatham County Emergency Management Director Dennis Jones, who joined elected officials and key county personnel for a press conference Wednesday as the storm made landfall in southwest Florida.
“With the amount of storm surge that's associated with this event, there is a possibility for flooding to create isolation issues, especially on the east side of Chatham County. So we're watching that closely,” Jones told members of the news media Wednesday.
Officials gathered to report on the storm’s progress and the preparations underway ahead of an anticipated three- to five-foot storm surge slated to lash eastern Chatham County beginning Thursday night and continuing until Friday evening.
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A high tide of 10.8 feet is expected around the same time as Ian’s landfall in Savannah, increasing the potential for flooding, particularly on flood-prone roads like U.S. 80 on the way to Tybee Island and parts of Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“Those places that normally have water, expect water to be there,” Chatham County Chairman Chester Ellis said. “It's just that we don’t know how much water will be there because the projection is anywhere from four to eight inches of rain.”
Ellis said there is no reason for evacuation orders with this storm, residents need to be ready for strong winds and floodwaters to batter streets and yards.
The theme in Chatham county ahead of Ian’s Thursday arrival is preparedness. Jones said everyone from local firefighters and police departments to Georgia Power and Verizon are getting ready for a major storm event.
No major closures have been announced, with all area hospitals, the airport and schools slated to remain open on Thursday and Friday, as of Wednesday afternoon. Ellis said decisions about schools and other government operations will be made once the situation becomes clearer.
Hurricane Ian state updates: Savannah, Augusta have potential flooding risks over next three days
Ellis and Savannah Mayor Van Johnson signed local emergency declarations Wednesday morning, freeing emergency management officials to request aid from the state and federal levels if necessary. Johnson said he spoke with both senators, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, D-GA, ready to offer aid should the need arise.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also issued a statewide state of emergency, which allows the National Guard to be called without further authorization. Kemp will visit Chatham County on Thursday ahead of the storm’s arrival and speak to the media before noon.
Officials emphasized that the biggest thing residents should do is prepare: pack an emergency kit, secure outdoor furniture and waste bins and make sure cellphones are fully charged. The city’s helpline, 311, is also running 24 hours a day during the storm to offer support for residents.
“Be prepared,” Mayor Johnson said during the press conference. “... and if you know an area floods, let’s avoid those areas in advance.”
Hurricane Ian impact scenarios for Savannah
The National Weather Service expects Hurricane Ian to make landfall on the Georgia and South Carolina coast on Friday, with the worst conditions remaining along the coast.
A Tropical Storm Warning and Storm Surge Watch are in effect for Coastal Bryan, Coastal Chatham, Coastal Jasper, Coastal Liberty, Inland Chatham, Inland Jasper, Inland Liberty and Effingham.
According to observations from Enki Research's Chuck Watson, a Savannah-based hazards researcher and hurricane expert, the hurricane is going to slow down and linger, meaning conditions are expected to deteriorate during the day on Thursday into Friday morning.
The worst of the impacts will likely be Friday afternoon around 2 p.m. into Saturday morning with rain squalls and gusty winds in the 30 mph range. However, Watson said while people should use caution and "common sense," Hurricane Ian shouldn't be particularly dangerous for Savannah.
Hurricane Tracker:Where is Ian headed?
"For the Savannah area for this storm on this trajectory, it's certainly going to be an inconvenience. It may be hazardous in a few places, but not especially dangerous," Watson said. "You may get big limbs down and if there's a weak tree someplace, it could conceivably fall in the wind gusts but that's kind of what we're expecting here."
Retired meteorologist Pat Prokop noted that Savannah will start seeing the effects of the storm by Wednesday with "breezy" weather conditions with the worst of the storm seen Thursday night into Friday and a potential of three to five inches of rain, maybe in some instances up to seven inches.
"I expect to see some widespread 50 miles per hour winds in our area that will produce a lot of tree damage," Prokop said. "And of course, what comes with that is power outages, so I expect a lot of power outages to go along with this system."
If Savannah gets onshore winds, which are winds blowing from the water to land, Prokop said the evening tides could reach two feet higher than expected leading to flooding.
Hurricane Ian advisory for Savannah
Watson and Prokop advised residents that while it's a good idea to stock up on supplies in the case of power outages and blocked roads due to downed trees, there's no need to raid stores.
Unlike scenarios like Hurricane Matthew, they expect scattered outages that should be taken care of quickly and cleanup to begin by Saturday afternoon.
"It's certainly not anything that you would be freaking out about," Watson said.
Tybee Island advisory
At this time, there is a shelter-in-place order with no call for evacuation on Tybee Island.
According to the Tybee Island city manager Shawn Gillen, the city has provided sand bags at Tybee Island Memorial Park for residents who need them, especially those with properties in low-lying areas of Tybee like Lewis Avenue and the southern part of the island.
Gillen said the city is expecting storm surges and the closure of Highway 80, likely at high tide points of the day from 10-11 a.m. on Thursday and Friday. There is a sand barricade at Alley Street on the southrn end of the island and storm shutters will be closed on some buildings.
Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) response
The Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) has entered the Watch/Warning Phase (Operating Condition 3) and is closely monitoring Hurricane Ian.
According to a press release by CEMA, the agency predicts up to 6 inches of rain in 24 hours and the risk of tornadoes. It advised residents in low-lying areas to stay alert for possible flooding.
Network and connectivity preparedness
Comcast is preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Ian by staging emergency generators and fuel trucks as well as bringing in additional technical and network restoration teams that are ready to be deployed as the storm’s path becomes clearer.
Here are a few additional helpful tips and safety precautions:
Customers should plug TV’s, modems, and cable boxes into a surge protector to protect them from damage in case of lightning or a sudden power outage.
Emergency management procedures dictate that electricity must be restored first and Comcast must receive clearance that it is safe for our crews to begin any restoration work. Should customers experience a loss of service due to a power outage, local power must first be restored before Xfinity video, phone or internet services can begin working again.
If customers have electricity but not Xfinity services, Comcast recommends that restarting or resetting devices, including wireless gateways, modems, routers, and cable boxes.
Customers should always stay clear of downed power and cable lines in the interest of safety.
Keep cell phones dry and charged.
Make sure all emergency contact numbers and emails are saved on mobile phones.
Forward a home phone number to a mobile phone number so that customers can receive emergency calls even if they are not home.
During the storm, text instead of calling—texts require fewer network resources.
Visit Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) for tips on hurricane preparedness gema.georgia.gov/hurricanes
Laura Nwogu is the quality of life reporter for Savannah Morning News. Contact her at LNwogu@gannett.com. Twitter: @lauranwogu_
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah Hurricane Ian: Officials expect flooding but no evacuation