COVINGTON, Ga. - County and city leaders and first responders got a briefing from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Atlanta and Newton County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Jody Nolan Friday afternoon as the county continues to prepare for the local impact of Hurricane Irma.
Irma is expected to produce tropical storm force winds as it travels through Georgia starting in the southeast part of the state late Sunday night. It is expected to reach the Interstate 20 corridor early Monday morning. Three to five inches of rain are expected for much of the state as the storm passes through.
Nolan said to also expect strong winds during the storm.
“It’s very likely that we’re going to have sustained winds here for periods of time in the 60 miles per hour range,” he said. “Not just gusts that we’re used to when storms come in, but sustained winds could last long periods of time, so obviously there’s going to be a debris issue.”
Nolan said the county tentatively plans to open an Emergency Operations Center at 10 a.m. Monday morning at the City of Covington Fire Station No. 22. He said the duration of the center depends on the track of the storm.
“We’ll probably have at least six or seven emergency support functions activated through the Emergency Operations Center,” he said.
“If there is a need that we do have here in Newton County, we have a lot of resources available. But then there may be an opportunity for Newton County to provide resources as well if we have specialized equipment or personnel that they request.”
Nolan said in certain circumstances, emergency services may not be able to get to people as quickly as possible.
“I’m sure dispatch in a situation such as this is going to start prioritizing some of the calls,” he said.
He also recommended citizens be as self-sufficient as possible and have at least three days of food, water and medicine available. He said the recommended amount of water is three gallons per person per day.
Nolan said to expect a lot of debris, including downed power lines. Firefighters said citizens should treat all power lines as live and not touch them at all.
Covington FireDepartment (CFD) Chief Stoney Bowles said civilians should not enter any area surrounded by yellow fire line/caution tape until the area is confirmed clear.
Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) Sgt. Cortney Morrison said Sheriff Ezell Brown has put all staff on active on-call status, meaning that “anytime between Sept. 8 and Sept. 14 personnel are subject to be called in to assist in any capacity that is defined as necessary”.
Piedmont Newton Hospital spokesperson Sydney D. Walker provided a statement from hospital CEO Eric Bour, MD, concerning the hospital’s preparations for the predicted severe weather.
“Piedmont Newton is preparing our staff and facility for any severe weather that impacts the Newton County area, ensuring we have adequate personnel and supplies on site and are ready to assist patients displaced from other areas affected by the hurricane. We’ll also be making sure that our staff are (sic) preparing our patients and their families, providing them information and keeping them informed. As always, patient safety is top priority.”
As always, drinking water is important during any sort of weather emergency. Nolan said anybody wishing to donate water can do so by dropping it off at any City of Covington or Newton County Fire Station.