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Clayton County to feel the effects of Frances

From News Daily/Daily Herald Staff

Once Hurricane Frances is done chewing up Florida it is expected to expel its dying breaths across Georgia and into Clayton and Henry counties.

"We are going to get some rain from it," said Mike Leary, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Peach Tree City. "But the main eye will be to the west (of Clayton County.)"

The storm should hit some time early Monday morning, Leary said, bringing 35 mph winds and possibly five to 10 inches of rain. It is not expected to cause tornadoes, Leary said.

With homes still swaddled in blue tarp and the deaths from Hurricane Charley fresh in their minds, Floridians jammed stores along the Atlantic coast Thursday to grab water and other supplies while others made evacuation plans as the state braced for what could be the mightiest storm in a decade.

A hurricane warning was issued Thursday for most of the state's East Coast, stretching more than 300 miles from Florida City to Flagler Beach. It meant hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph were likely within 24 hours.

The hurricane is hitting in Florida, but Georgia businesses are already feeling the effect.

"It's amazing how far up they'll come, but they do," said Renee Patton, the general manager of Lowe's in McDonough.

Floridians are driving hours away to buy emergency supplies, such as flashlights, plywood and generators, Patton said. When Hurricane Charley hit, Lowe's sold out of generators in Florida.

Before the weather picks up in the Southern Crescent, customers are picking up needed supplies, she said.

"Right now, we have plenty of everything at this point," Patton said.

Lowe's has purchased extra supplies and is waiting to see which areas are hardest hit by Hurricane Frances before shipping out the extras, she said. A command center has been setup to strategically send supplies to areas in the path of Frances.

Lowe's has also formed "hurricane teams" to staff stores in affected areas, Patton said.

Hurricane preparedness tips in English and Spanish are available at (877) 377-3PREPARE, (877) 377-3727. Lowe's Severe Weather Guide is available at Lowe's locations and online at www.lowes.com/hurricane.

Donations can be made to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund at all area Lowe's locations.

About three-quarters of a million people in Florida were ordered to leave their homes by Thursday afternoon as Hurricane Frances inched toward the U.S. mainland. Up to 250,000 people living on barrier islands, in mobile homes and in low-lying areas in Broward County, which contains Fort Lauderdale, were added to the evacuation list Thursday. States of emergency were declared in both Georgia and Florida.

Packing 145-mph top sustained winds with higher gusts and a course that has emergency officials and residents in several Southeastern states jittery, the Category 4 storm was expected to fluctuate in intensity as it headed for a Labor Day weekend rendezvous.

Around 9 a.m. Thursday Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency for Georgia to allow for state aid to affected areas and to prevent price gouging. The Clayton County Emergency Management Agency is preparing more for the logistical problems related to the storm more than the weather itself.

"Because of all the evacuations (in Florida) people are going to wind up in Georgia," said Vacal "Vac" Caldwell, CCEMA training specialist.

The CCEMA is working with the Department of Family and Children Services on providing temporary housing for evacuees if needed, Caldwell said.

"But because the evacuation zone ends in Macon we don't anticipate a large influx of people into the metro Atlanta area," Caldwell said.

Some people may come to the area if they have relatives here or are just curious about Atlanta, Caldwell said.

But Henry County emergency officials expect evacuees n and have seen them already.

"I know the evacuees are here," said Barry Jenkins, Henry fire chief and emergency management agency director. "There are Florida tags everywhere and the interstate has just stopped."

Jenkins met with other local leaders Thursday to discuss strategies in the event bad weather hits or evacuees end up stranded in Henry County.

"They didn't plan for a vacation and a lot don't have the money to leave home," he said. "A lot of them have everything they own in their car and drive until they run out of money."

A few years ago, about 30 evacuees did get stuck in Henry County and officials put them up in a shelter for 24 hours.

Part of this weekend's preparations include the possibility of opening public schools as shelters and determining whether or not to open the emergency operations center Sunday night.

Emergency officials have a couple things working against them n it is Labor Day weekend and forecasters aren't sure the direction the storm will take.

"We don't really know where the storm is going to hit," said Jenkins. "We were going to wait and meet Friday but with it being a holiday weekend, a lot of people take off Fridays so we went ahead and met to get phone lists if we need extra help."

The forecast for Sunday and Monday is heavy rain and wind with possible localized flooding. Jenkins anticipates trees and power lines may topple, disrupting traffic and transportation.

"Hopefully none will come down on houses," he said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is also preparing for the influx of evacuees into the state. GDOT has activated its Emergency Operations Center to respond to damage from the storm throughout the state and to handle media communications.

It is staging equipment in Tifton and Albany for the southwestern part of the state and in Waycross and Jessup for the southeastern section of the state.

"In the event that we have fallen trees and debris blocking the roadway, this equipment will be accessible for us to clear the roads as soon as possible," said State Maintenance Engineer Bryant Poole.

Also, 22 Highway Emergency Response Operators (HEROs) are being dispatched to two headquarters in Brunswick and Tifton. They are to assist motorists on Interstates 95, 75 and 16.

"Our goal is to keep the roads open for evacuating motorists," said Gary Milsaps, GDOT Incident Management Manager.

Hurricane season information is provided on the Georgia

Department of Transportation Web site at www.dot.state.ga.us. Georgia's evacuation routes, a family emergency supply list and information on emergency shelters can all be found on the site. Evacuees should be sure to have bottled water, flares, booster cables, a tire repair kit and a cell phone if possible on the highway. Blue traffic signs along Georgia highways indicate radio stations for updated severe weather information.

Motorists may also call 1-888-635-8287 to speak directly with a Georgia NaviGAtor Transportation Management Center operator.

Georgia Power authorities have been watching Frances and making preparations, company spokeswoman Lolita Browning said, but she couldn't say yet if the company will send crews to Florida like they did after Hurricane Charley.

"We are going to take care of our customers in Georgia first before we take care of other utilities," Browning said.

Browning said they have received requests for help from some Florida utilities.

On Sunday the company will send four "A-Teams" to Perry, Ga. where they will stand by for assignments, Browning said. The A-Teams consist of about 25 people each and 10 to 12 trucks.

On Monday another nine A-Teams will be dispatched but Browning said their destinations have not yet been determined. The company will also have storm trailers and command centers ready to go on Monday.

With all of the preparations being made, pets shouldn't be forgotten, said Robin Rawls, the vice president of the Clayton County Humane Society.

"I will tell you this, and a lot of people disagree with me, but you never leave your pet behind," Rawls said. "In advance, people should have a list of animal-friendly extended stay housing and hotels."

Pet owners should stock up fresh water, litter, food, medicine and other items needed by their pets, she said. In addition, pets should have identification in case they are separated from their owners and owners should have an animal carrier for each pet.

The humane society also developed an emergency plan for pets in case of disaster, she said.

The University of Georgia Extension Services Natural Disasters Web site at interests.caes.uga.edu/disaster/default.htm offers tips on hurricane preparation. It includes a quote from Georgia State Climatologist David Stooksbury.

"People shouldn't focus too much on the predicted track of a hurricane. They should pay more attention to the swath of impact, which is a much greater area," Stooksbury says. "Hurricane-force winds can be felt 100 miles from the center of a major hurricane and tropical-storm-force winds (up to 74 mph) much farther than that."

As many Floridians watched weather reports to determine the direction of the hurricane, Clayton hotels braced for the onslaught of evacuees expected to arrive by airplane and car over the weekend.

Most of the hotels surrounding the airport had booked all of their rooms as early as Friday morning.

Pamela Taylor, the front desk manager of AmeriSuites on Sullivan Road, said the hurricane was forcing her to have to accommodate guests at other hotels, but she struggled to find any vacancy at hotels close to the airport.

The overflow reached Chamblee Inn on Old Dixie Highway Friday afternoon, where housekeepers scrambled to prepare the rooms for the wave of incoming guests, said Kevin Knapp, the motel's manager.

Another hotel manager in South Clayton said he had received several calls from Floridians and advised them to bring an extra pillow.

"I told them I would waive the fee for extra people and let as many people in one room as they feel comfortable with," said Ifhver Patel, manager of Economy Inn.

As the hotels began to fill, the Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) made arrangements to handle those unable to get a reservation by opening up its expanse of campground to any evacuee in need of refuge.

"We had all this space, and it was going to go unused this weekend," said AMS President Ed Clark. "It's the least we can do to open it up for someone who really needs it."

The Associated Press contributed to this article