Bonnie, Charley not expected to impact Clayton much

By Ed Brock

LaToya Butts of Jonesboro had just heard about Tropical Storm Bonnie and what could become Hurricane Charley on Wednesday, but she was far from panicked.

"I don't see it producing any cause to go stock up on the water, the bread, the milk," Butts said.

That was the consensus among Clayton County's emergency workers who were taking a wait and see stance on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon Bonnie was still out in the Gulf of Mexico with sustained 50 mph winds and gusts to 65 mph, according to AccuWeather.com. It was expected to increase to minimal hurricane strength and come ashore near Panama City, Fla. Around 8 a.m. today.

Charley was still far behind her, churning through the Caribbean toward Jamaica with hurricane force winds of just over 74 mph. It was expected to continue strengthening and hit the West Coast of Florida 24 to 48 hours after Bonnie.

The projected paths of both storms threatened at least parts of Georgia, Bonnie some time this evening and Charley for Friday and possibly into Saturday.

"It's headed toward us but maybe not as dramatic as some people are thinking," said Lance Rothfusz, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, regarding Bonnie.

Most of the effects of Bonnie will be east and south of I-85 but will include just two to four inches of rain, Rothfusz said, not enough to cause flooding.

"In the course of the afternoon we may see some wind gusts up to 40 mph," Rothfusz said.

And Clayton County will see even less, with occasional 15 to 20 mph wind gusts this afternoon.

"We'll get rain there, no question of that," Rothfusz said.

Charley could be much stronger than Bonnie but, if the current predictions hold true, it will be blown so far out to sea after running over Florida that the Clayton County area may get nothing more than sprinkles and showers. But the storms are being moved along by a strong Jet Stream that also means they are unlikely to stall out in the area, causing wide-scale flooding like Hurricane Alberto did 10 years ago, Rothfusz said.

It's Tropical Storm Charley that is cause for concern for Vacal Caldwell, a training specialist for Clayton County Emergency Management Agency.

"That one has a little more time to cook so we're going to really watch that one," Caldwell said.

The CCEMA recently moved into new offices in the same building that houses the Clayton County Police Department Headquarters on McDonough Street in Jonesboro. In the event of a wide-spread disaster, such as a storm that was causing damage or a terrorist attack, they have a high tech operations center from which to monitor and control response to the event.

And they even have hurricane-proof windows, said Deputy Director John Dalton.

"They should withstand anything that comes this way," Dalton said.

In Jonesboro, Ed Wise, volunteer firefighter and owner of Sirens For Cities, and city work crews finished hooking up the wiring for a third outdoor warning siren for the city on Wednesday. However, Wise wasn't sure if Georgia Power crews would be able to power up the Thunderbolt 1000 siren in time for Bonnie or Charlie's arrival.

Wise donated the siren to the city as he has donated two other sirens in the past and as he plans to do at least two more times in the future. His company, Sirens for Cities, is dedicated to refurbishing old claxons and providing them to agencies that need them.

On Wednesday Wise was also more concerned with whether or not he should cancel a trip to the Georgia coast this weekend.

Georgia Power officials were watching the weather but had not yet issued orders Wednesday to dispatch additional crews to areas where the storms could hit, company spokeswoman Lynn Wallace said.

"If we need to respond we're definitely ready to do that," Wallace said.

And the American Red Cross has established a command center in their midtown Atlanta offices to watch the storms, spokeswoman Tiffany Fell said.

"We'll be watching the storms as they move and anticipating what kind of staffing needs and equipment needs will be there when they hit land," Fell said.

If needed the Red Cross could dispatch mobile emergency response vehicles out of its Disaster Field Supply Center at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Gillem in Forest Park, but Fell said the decision to dispatch the units had not yet been made.

Hanu Narayana of Riverdale was not too concerned about the storms on Wednesday, but he was still cautious.

"If two are coming they might change directions," Narayana said.