ATLANTA - Part of Interstate 16 from the Statesboro area to Savannah is closed to eastbound traffic, as six counties along the Georgia coast remain under a mandatory evacuation order due to Hurricane Matthew. Governor Nathan Deal ordered mandatory evacuations Thursday as Hurricane Matthew approached. Deal said Thursday that everyone east of Interstate 95 should flee Georgia's six coastal counties, which include: Bryan, Chatham, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden.
"It is the highest warning we can give people," Governor Deal said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, urging residents to take Hurricane Matthew seriously. "For those who are in the path of the storm, I encourage you to monitor GEMA's website."
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Just after the evacuation order, the Georgia State Patrol allowed westbound traffic on both sides of Interstate 16 to to carry traffic away from the Georgia coast. On Friday, that "contraflow" operation ended. But eastbound lanes of the interstate east of Statesboro were open only to emergency workers and first responders, including government agencies and Georgia Power crews.
Thirty southeast Georgia counties are under an emergency declaration issued by Gov. Deal. The governor’s emergency declaration frees up emergency funds, allows special exemptions for commercial vehicles which will allow faster transportation of supplies, and also warns about price gouging.
President Obama also issued an emergency declaration for Georgia Thursday. That declaration allows federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief efforts in the state.
Governor Deal said 45 members of the Georgia National Guard have been activated to assist state and local public safety transportation officials.
"I urge Georgians in the affected areas to remain calm, be prepared and make informed, responsible decisions as we continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew’s path," Gov. Deal stated in a release sent to FOX 5 News on Thursday.
WATCH: Coastal evacuations continue
School districts in all six coastal counties, including Savannah-Chatham Schools, have canceled classes and activities through the weekend.
Thursday morning, Georgia Southern University canceled classes and events through Saturday at the Statesboro campus and Coastal Georgia Center in Savannah.
"This will enable faculty, staff and students to meet logistical challenges that may present themselves prior to the storm," GSU said online.
More than 534,000 people populate the six coastal counties. An evacuation hasn't been seen in coastal Georgia in 17 years, since Hurricane Floyd passed in 1999. About 520,000 more Georgians are affected by the state of emergency.
Screven, Jenkins, Emanuel, Treutlen, Candler, Toombs, Tattnall, Jeff Davis, Appling, Coffee, Bacon, Pierce, Ware, Atkinson, Clinch, Burke, Echols, Brantley, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Charlton, Chatham, Effingham, Evans, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Wayne counties are all under the state of emergency.