Associated Press Writer
SAVANNAH — South Georgians were bracing for heavy rains that could lead to flooding as Tropical Storm Andrea gained strength during its approach to the state Thursday.
Parts of southeast Georgia — including Brunswick, Savannah, Valdosta and Waycross — were under a tropical storm warning Thursday morning. The storm was expected to track northeast over the area through Thursday night.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service said heavy rains and flooding will be the main threats in Georgia, but isolated tornadoes were also possible.
On Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast, the National Park Service was evacuating campers as the storm approached.
Only about 30 campers were spending Thursday on the island, a federally protected wilderness reachable only by boat, said Bridget Bohnet, the chief park ranger.
“My main concern is the winds,” Bohnet said. “We’re subject to trees falling and limbs breaking, and I don’t want anybody getting hurt.”
Forecasters were predicting the storm would pass through Georgia, and the island would likely re-open to tourists today.
“It looks like it’s picking up speed, and that’s a good thing because it won’t sit and rain us so long,” said Jan Chamberlain, whose family runs the Blue Heron Inn Bed & Breakfast near the Sapelo Island Ferry station on Georgia’s coast.
The ferry takes visitors to Sapelo Island, which is home to a few dozen full-time residents. The barrier island is sometimes evacuated during hurricanes, but Chamberlain doesn’t expect that to happen during this storm.
In McIntosh County, also on the Georgia coast, emergency management director Ray Parker said he was concerned that Andrea’s high winds could topple trees.
“Our main concern right now is the ground is already saturated from rains the past week,” Parker said. “Around here, our root system doesn’t go down that deep, so it doesn’t take a whole lot to bring trees down.”
Schools in Savannah remained open Thursday as rain from Andrea’s outer bands began to push into the area. Officials canceled all sports practices and other after-school activities as rainfall was expected to intensify later in the day.
On Tybee Island, six lifeguards stayed on duty at Georgia’s largest public beach even as rain began to drive most people inside. Skip Sasser, the island’s fire and ocean-rescue chief, was concerned about winds from the storm churning up dangerous rip currents offshore.
“Unfortunately we do still have people who try to go into the surf, between the tide surfers and board surfers and the tourists who insist on getting out into the water,” Sasser said Thursday afternoon. “It’s pretty deserted now. A lot of people have heeded the warnings. But a few people still don’t understand.”
Georgia’s seaports in Savannah and coastal Brunswick remained open Thursday as workers prepared for rougher weather overnight. Crews were making sure empty 20- and 40-foot cargo containers, sometimes stacked near the docks up to seven containers high, were grouped in uniform blocks capable of withstanding strong winds.
Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said the U.S. Coast Guard might have to close the shipping channels to Savannah and Brunswick during the night to keep cargo ships from arriving or departing as Andrea churned past.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that we might for a short time have to stop bringing in ships,” Foltz said. “We think it’ll blow through and the impacts will be minimal. But you can’t take any tropical storm too lightly.”
A flash flood watch was expanded early Thursday to include all of southwest and south central Georgia and part of northeast Georgia. That area includes Albany, Macon, Dublin, Vidalia, Statesboro and Augusta.
Mostly Georgians were braced for a drenching. The National Weather Service said 3 to 6 inches of rain was possible, with isolated rainfall of up to 10 inches.