SAVANNAH, Ga. - Georgia's coastal counties are getting ready for the severe weather Ian could bring after the storm barreled across the Florida peninsula, bringing floods, high winds, and power outages to the Peach State's neighbor.
Hurricane Ian, now downgraded to a tropical storm, left a path of destruction in southwest Florida, trapping people in flooded homes, damaging the roof of a hospital intensive care unit and knocking out power to 2 million people before aiming for the Atlantic Coast.
Early Thursday, the storm's maximum sustained winds dropped to around 65 mph while continuing to move northeast toward Orlando and the Atlantic Ocean at around 8 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. Ian is expected to emerge over Atlantic waters later on Thursday, with flooding rains continuing across central and northern Florida.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp, as well as local and state emergency officials, briefed residents on the plan to keep people safe for what's left of the storm. In Savannah on Thursday, Kemp said the state is still preparing for flooding and heavy wind, but the latest tracks were showing the state may avoid worst-case scenarios projected earlier this week.
"Thankfully we've been very luck overnight that the storm continues to move out eastward," Kemp said.
Kemp said the Savannah airport and port remained open. The port would operate at least until Thursday night. He said he planned to meet with the Coast Guard regarding the status of the port and how long it could remain operational.
Kemp asked Georgians to keep Floridians devastated by Hurricane Ian in their thoughts and prayers. He said there is still hotel capacity for Floridians seeking refuge in Georgia. More information is available at Explore Georgia's Hurricane Alert page..
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson declared a local state of emergency for the city on Wednesday morning, joining Kemp's a state of emergency for all Georgia counties designed to help the state prepares for Ian's arrival.
The city announced plans to close the Talmadge Bridge over the Savannah River and the Sidney Lanier Bridge over the Brunswick River to starting Thursday morning.
Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools and Glynn County Schools will also be closed Thursday and Friday.
Officials predicted on Wednesday the storm would make its way through Georgia on Friday afternoon into Saturday morning.
Rough surf along East Beach on St. Simons Island has forced red flags to be flown warning people not to swim ahead of Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. (FOX 5)
On St. Simon's Island, many residents prepared to ride out the storm and bunker down to avoid the severe weather's impact.
Chris Hart, the owner of a local Ace Hardware says he has been busy the last few days with customers buying batteries, flashlights, and sandbags. He says the store is running out of everything.
"We're trying to get an emergency order in right now, but it will be coming from Alabama off I-10 and we don't know if we're going to be able to get it," said Hart.
Currenlty, the Georgia has no mandatory evacuation orders in place for the coastal areas.
"We were debating whether to leave or not, even though there's not a mandatory evacuation," said St. Simon's Island resident Cathy McCall. "I'm concerned about the wind and the tornadoes and flooding and everything."
No deaths were reported in the United States from Ian by late Wednesday. But a boat carrying Cuban migrants sank Wednesday in stormy weather east of Key West.
A man live streams as gusts from Hurricane Ian hits in Punta Gorda, Florida on September 28, 2022. (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)
FOX 5 Atlanta will be live with the latest this week from Coastal Georgia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.