Those fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Michael, which has forced mandatory evacuations in some areas along the Gulf Coast where it will arrive Wednesday afternoon, will be able to seek temporary shelter in Columbus.
Michael strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane overnight, with the National Hurricane Center in Miami reporting the storm had sustained winds of 155 mph near its core eye wall as it moved ashore Wednesday, with wind speeds dropping as it moved inland. The track of Michael as of 5 p.m. Wednesday indicates it will veer quickly toward the northeast after coming ashore, with its center moving over Albany and east of the Macon-Warner Robins area.
The Columbus area was relatively quiet until about 2 p.m. Wednesday. That’s when steady rain began to fall throughout the area. Heavier rain and wind is expected to start locally sometime between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., with winds beginning to gust toward 35 mph to 40 mph. Wind gusts could remain in the 35 mph-plus range much of the night, dying down somewhat by daybreak Thursday morning. Between 3 to 4 inches of rain are expected Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The American Red Cross received permission Tuesday from the city to open Shirley Winston Recreation Center, 5025 Steam Mill Road, starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday. However, the agency is calling the recreation center a “24-hour emergency center,” meaning no cots will be available. Those staying there were told to bring their own blankets, pillows and other necessities.
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Another Columbus entity called SafeHouse, operated by the Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministry and located at Rose Hill Methodist Church, 2101 Hamilton Road, offered a place to stay for storm evacuees beginning 6 a.m. today (Wednesday). It said no questions will be asked and no one will be turned away, with those needing information advised to call 706-322-3773.
United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley also said that anyone seeking local resources connected to Hurricane Michael can dial 2-1-1 or 706-405-4775 around the clock. They also can text MICHAEL to 898211, said United Way’s 2-1-1 coordinator Candace Poole.
Some Columbus-area schools have announced closures for Thursday.
Panama City Beach, the Florida Panhandle tourist community, announced mandatory evacuations for some areas along the coast Tuesday morning. There also are expected to be massive power outages along the path of Hurricane Michael as it moves inland over the Panhandle and into Georgia.
The National Weather Service in Peachtree City warned early Wednesday of “significant impacts to much of central and east Georgia through Thursday.”
Tornadoes could spin up and the strongest winds are expected along and south of a line from Columbus to Macon to west of Augusta.
Sustained winds of 25-45 mph are possible with gusts up to 70 mph across parts of southern central Georgia.
While Michael is expected to pack a severe rain-and-high-wind punch for those in its path, which will include portions of Georgia, the storm’s rapid movement could lessen the overall severity of damage versus a slow-moving storm such as Hurricane Florence. That storm in September brought catastrophic flooding to eastern areas of the Carolinas.