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‘Begging’ for hotel rooms in Georgia

ATLANTA — As Georgia braces for the storm, hotels across the state have filled up fast.

“I’ve been begging my members for rooms and finding one or two here or there,” said Jim Sprouse of the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association. There is little to no availability in hotels across the state, he says. “We’re now turning to campgrounds to look for space, and starting to look at Alabama.”

The visitors centers along major highways saw thousands Thursday, but less Friday. “A lot of [evacuees] would come in and not have any idea where they were going to stay,” says Emily Murray, communications specialist with the Georgia Department of Economic Development. She says the visitors centers are now equipped with information on how and where to find lodging for those who still need it.

“Once the governor issued the mandatory evacuation for those six counties on the coast, everybody started flooding up to those areas [farther north] so it booked very, very fast.”

According to Don Bryant, a county emergency management director, there are close to 700 people in the eight shelters in Laurens County, a “host” county for evacuees coming from the coast.

Some people have left the shelters Friday, many in search of a place where both they and their pets can stay. (The Red Cross-operated shelters don’t allow pets.) Others left in search of a room at a hotel or motel.

Interstate 16, the major thoroughfare between Macon and Savannah, opened back up partially Friday, with traffic now going both east and west. But starting around Claxton, about 50 miles west of Savannah, the eastbound route is closed off.

“The way it’s looking, you know, we may get a few more but we’re probably about to the point of the evacuation slowing down,” Bryant says.

“With the storm getting as close as it is, the counties have stopped our efforts for evacuation. Some people may continue to evacuate on their own, but the evacuation is pretty much over with.”

For those who still want to evacuate, Bryant noted that the westbound routes remain open.

Flash flood emergency unfolds in Carolinas as Florida begins to clean up
(National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane Matthew is making its closest approach to Florida on Friday morning as a powerful Category 3 with sustained winds of 120 mph. The storm is hugging the coast as it tracks north, churning just 25 miles offshore.

Cape Canaveral has endured the strongest winds so far — a 107 mph wind gust was recorded Friday morning after an extreme wind warning was issued in the early morning hours.

Matthew is expected to continue north along the coast and reach Georgia and South Carolina by Friday night. The hurricane will continue to weaken gradually thanks to the interaction with land, but it will remain a dangerous storm with serious impacts for the coastline. A storm surge warning is in effect to the central South Carolina coast.

On Saturday night, Matthew will begin to turn east away from the coast, likely before any serious impacts reach the Outer Banks.