THIS WEEK’S TOP STORIES
Storm season: Water replaces wind as the critical factor
By Jason Lesley
It’s not the wind that worries Sam Hodge, Georgetown County’s emergency management manager, it’s the water.
Storm surge has replaced wind speed as the most fearsome danger from a hurricane, Hodge told a group of people at the first of a series of seminars conducted this week.
“Evacuation is now based on surge, not the category of the storm,” Hodge said. “There are zones to be evacuated for each individual hurricane.”
The county has been divided into three evacuation zones by the Corps of Engineers. Most of the Waccamaw Neck is in Evacuation Zone A with a smaller section between Highway 17 and the Waccamaw River’s flood zone in Zone B. “Know Your Zone” maps are available in a free county hurricane guide through Georgetown County Emergency Management and on the web at gcemd.com.
Low areas near Brookgreen Gardens, the intersection of Highway 17 and Martin Luther King Boulevard and along Kings River Road are likely flood zones in the Pawleys Island area, Hodge said. A category 1 hurricane making a direct hit on Georgetown County could produce a storm surge of 4 to 5 feet. The height of the water increases with higher winds until a category 5 hurricane threatens as much as 18 feet of surge. Hodge said models show the potential of 75 to 80 percent of Georgetown County to be under water after a “perfect storm” strikes at the mouth of Winyah Bay and pushes water all the way to Florence County.
“If you are ordered to evacuate,” Hodge said, “it’s because there’s a real possibility of storm surge reaching your home.”
The evacuation route for all of Georgetown County and parts of southern Horry County travels south on Highway 17 and through Georgetown. Hodge said it’s important for people to understand that flooding could close evacuation routes once a hurricane strikes.
“Everybody south of Atlantic Avenue will come through Georgetown,” Hodge said. “It will likely be a nice day when evacuation orders are given. We’ll have 24 to 28 hours of evacuation time. We will do everything possible to avoid a night evacuation. That’s the worst thing that can happen.”
Evacuation traffic going south on Highway 17 will be directed either on to Black River Road to Fraser Street and inland on Highway 51 or to Highmarket Street and Highway 521 inland.
He said the most frequently asked question about evacuations is “When will the bridges be closed?”
The answer, he said, surprises almost everyone. “We don’t close the bridges, the S.C. Department of Transportation makes that decision. The only time we would ever close a bridge is from damage to its structural integrity.”
Hodge said he was working in an ambulance during Hurricane Hugo and crossed the bridges near Georgetown in high winds. “I never want to do that again,” he said.
Traffic jams and panic can all be avoided, Hodge said, if people will be prepared. There will be no more voluntary evacuation orders because “people really didn’t listen to voluntary evacuations,” he said.
He recommended having a case with important documents like insurance policies, copies of driver’s licenses and at least one old utility bill for proof of residence or business ownership in a waterproof bag. Flashlights, water, canned food, prescription medicines, toiletries, baby food and diapers and a battery-powered radio are all recommended for an evacuation kit. And don’t forget a manual can opener, he said.
Hodge also suggested having an ample supply of cash on hand and keeping cars at least half filled with gasoline during hurricane season.
Homeowners should cover their windows with plywood or shutters and brace garage doors, the weakest point in most structures before leaving, Hodge said.
Pets are another big concern for people during an evacuation. A growing number of motels accept pets if they are in carriers, Hodge said. He recommended identifying pet-friendly locations before an emergency strikes and taking pet food, bottled water, medications, veterinary records, cat litter and a pan and food dishes.
Make sure pet identification tags are up to date and securely fastened to a pet’s collar in case it is lost. Having a current photo of pets could help locate them too.
“Don’t use your pets as an excuse not to evacuate,” Hodge said.
For people without the means of evacuating on their own, emergency shelters will be open at Pleasant Hill Elementary School and Andrews Elementary School. School buses will travel a route from Food Lion at Highway 707 and 17 in Murrells Inlet, to Waccamaw Middle School, Waccamaw Elementary School and St. Mary’s AME Church before moving toward the shelters. Pets are not allowed in the shelters, Hodge said, so owners need to make other arrangements.
Predictions are for 12 to 20 named storms with three to five major hurricanes this season.
“It only takes one storm,” Hodge said, “for Georgetown County to have a very bad day.”