Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon for 12 coastal Georgia counties as Hurricane Dorian loomed to the south in the Atlantic Ocean, the first time he’s issued such an executive order since he took office in January.
Several hours later, Ken Jacobsen exuded calm before the forecast storm as he spoke by phone from his St. Simons Island home two blocks from the water. He, his wife Judy, and about 13,000 other islanders are getting used to the drill after a couple of big storms hit Georgia’s 100 miles of coastline in two of the past three years.
In October 2016, it was Hurricane Matthew that downed trees and knocked out power on the island for the better part of a week. In September 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Georgia as a tropical storm and inflicted $670 million in insured damage. Downed trees accounted for much of Irma’s havoc.
Jacobsen said he and his wife are ready to bug out from the island across the FJ Torras Causeway and to the mainland to head north and hunker down in Atlanta for a few days if the state ratchets up the urgency to a mandatory evacuation order over the Labor Day weekend.
Friday the center of the storm is expected to track through the southeastern Bahamas and make landfall as a major hurricane anywhere from the Florida peninsula to Georgia’s coast.
Jacobsen and his wife were spared from hurricane scares the first decade after they moved from Atlanta to the coast 13 years ago. Half-a-million people live along the 100-mile Georgia coast and, until two years ago, conventional wisdom held that its concave shape and barrier islands protected it from Atlantic storms.
The governor’s Thursday afternoon emergency declaration is more of a preemptive bureaucratic step than a call to action or alert that people are in harm’s way. It covers 12 counties: Brantley, Bryan, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Pierce, and Wayne. The order immediately suspends restrictions on hours of commercial vehicle operation and vehicle height, weight, and length thresholds to assist in storm preparation, response, and recovery.
Still, given the recent experience with hurricanes Matthew and Irma, islanders cleared the shelves of water at the Harris Teeter and will watch over the holiday weekend to see if Dorian’s track prompts a mandatory evacuation order.
“What we’ve done is when the state issues a mandatory evacuation order, we take our precious items and put them upstairs, pack up our dog and go to Atlanta,” Jacobsen said. “If you stay, you won’t have plumbing, you won’t have power and there’s really no place to go.”