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Irma could hit southwestern Georgia by Monday afternoon and could dump up to 20 inches in the southeast, according to the National Weather Service, which warned that significant river flooding was possible Monday and Tuesday.
"We have a high flood potential. We are expecting Matthew-like conditions," said Dennis Jones, director of the Chatham County Emergency Management, referring to the hurricane that struck last October. "We are ready."
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Sunday added 65 counties to his previous state of emergency declaration, which now encompasses the entire state.
In south Georgia, residents were warned on Sunday to expect six hours of continuous hurricane-force winds until midday Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
"It'd tickle me to death if the forecast isn't as bad as they said, but obviously we have to plan that the forecasters have nailed it, and unfortunately that doesn't bode well for us," Ashley Tye, Lowndes County emergency services chief, said at a briefing, according to the newspaper.
State government offices were ordered to stay closed Monday and Tuesday for all employees except essential personnel. Classes at Atlanta-area schools also were canceled for Monday.
The governor ordered the evacuation of all people east of Interstate 95.
"The network of rural roads may be rendered impassable throughout the state of Georgia, isolating residences and farms from access to public services, " the governor said Sunday.
The disruptions from Irma could be felt far from the state if it disrupts travel at the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. Nearly 2,500 planes take off and land every day at the airport, which is Delta Air Lines' main hub.
More than 104 million travelers last year passed through the airport last year, according to Airports Council International.
Delta advised passengers to monitor the situation
Near Georgia's Atlantic coast, few restaurants were open Saturday night for the residents of Savannah who decided to stay put in the low-lying city. Stores throughout the historic downtown and along the popular river walk were shuttered throughout the day Saturday, even with Irma's winds two days away.
Nearly 2,000 residents took advantage of public transportation from an evacuation center to seek shelter to the north, but county officials had expected more.
"We are not safe," said Al Scott, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, which includes Savannah.
Popular tourist events were canceled ahead of Irma, including the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival, which had been planned for next weekend.
— CNBC's Diana Olick contributed to this story from Savannah