TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. – With Hurricane Frances (search) too close and too powerful to ignore, residents of coastal Georgia — where no major hurricane has hit in more than a century — hedged their bets, stocking up on supplies and booking inland hotel rooms.
Gov. Sonny Perdue (search ) ordered a pre-emptive state of emergency throughout Georgia. The 100-mile coastline remained a possible target for the hurricane should it veer from its forecast path into Florida, where massive evacuations were already under way. Even if it makes landfall in Florida, however, its trek was expected to bring rain to the Southeast by Tuesday.
No evacuations had been ordered by midmorning Friday.
"It's still too early to make a call," said Mark Crews, deputy emergency management director in Camden County near the Florida state line.
Pauline Clade of Whitmarsh Island, east of Savannah, went to Wal-Mart to ensure she had water, food, toilet paper and dog food — just in case.
"First they say it might hit, then they say it's not going to hit," said Clade, 86. "My golden lab retriever, she's scared right now. She knows something's happening. It makes me nervous."
In the meantime, the state focused on handling the influx of Floridians.
Interstate 75 resembled a parking lot at the Florida line, and state troopers planned to reroute some traffic onto a state highway.
Along the coast, I-95 was moving more steadily but was still heavy, and most area rest stops were full. Officers were telling motorists asleep in their cars alongside the highway to move along, State Patrol dispatcher Renee Easterling said. Even before dawn, gas stations in Brunswick were packed, she said.
Inland hotels throughout southern Georgia were rapidly booking up. A handful of shelters were open, and the Atlanta Motor Speedway was opening its camping lot.
"We're turning people away by the dozens," said Dustin Rodgers, assistant manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Statesboro.
On Tybee Island (search ), where 3,390 Georgians live in funky beach bungalows and $500,000 homes on stilts, many expect the worst Frances will do is ruin the Labor Day weekend that is normally the island's last tourism bonanza of the year.
No major hurricane has hit the Georgia coast since 1898, and longtime Tybee residents don't see Frances ending that streak.
But Mayor Walter Parker says Tybee residents are sounding more cautious about Frances.
"Some people yesterday saw me stocking up on water at Wal-Mart and said, `Oh, this must mean something,'" Parker said. "And I said, `No, you just need to be prepared.' I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and praying."
Alabama motels were filling up with Floridians, too, which worried Danielle Carver of the city tourism office in Dothan. The long-range forecast track for Frances has the storm's remnants moving through eastern Alabama on Tuesday. "I'm afraid people here will need shelter, too, with the wind and the rain," Carver said.
Among the Floridians heading to Alabama were Hipolito Aguilar and his family and friends, who left Fort Pierce, Fla., on Thursday night. They formed a four-car caravan on Interstate 10.
"We're just going to Alabama and we will stop where we can find room," Aguilar said.