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Administrator Sel Hemingway highlights the danger from storm surge, projected at 4 to 6 feet.

Hurricane Matthew: Track will bring storm to county’s doorstep

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Officials made a last-minute plea Friday for residents along the Waccamaw Neck east of Highway 17 to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Matthew because the threat has increased over the last 12 hours. At the same time, early response Thursday’s evacuation order has only been 40 to 50 percent.

“This could be the perfect storm for Georgetown County if it makes landfall in that area” south of Winyah Bay, said Sam Hodge, the Georgetown County director of Emergency Operations.

At a press conference, he held up a graphic from the National Weather Service showing the track of the storm passing 6 to 10 miles off the coast of the county as it makes a turn to the east on Saturday. “This is a very dangerous storm,” he said.

The storm is projected to be Category 1, with winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour. Hurricane Hugo which made landfall in Charleston in September 1989 had winds and storm surge equivalent to a Category 1 storm in Georgetown County. It caused widespread damage.

After listening to a weather briefing Friday, County Administrator Sel Hemingway said, “Mayor Otis and I look at each other and we simultaneously said ‘Hugo’.”

The storm surge along the oceanfront from the wind-driven waves is expected to be from 4 to 6 feet above ground level. “It’s going to be an event,” Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis said.

The causeways to Pawleys Island will close at 5 p.m. Friday and won’t reopen until the storm passes. The town closed public beach accesses Thursday night to reduce sightseers.

Hurricane Matthew is expected to pass closest to Georgetown County on Saturday afternoon. One way that it differs from Hurricane Hugo is the amount of rainfall that’s projected. It’s predicted to be about 12 inches. By comparison, the October 2015 storms brought almost 17 inches of rain over three days.

“It’s going to make its way right up to the doorstep of Georgetown County,” Hemingway said. “The potential for damage is a reality.”

He called out the names of communities along the Waccamaw Neck from DeBordieu to Garden City where people have ignored the evacuation order. “We are urging you to relocate,” he said.

Hodge said that emergency services won’t be available in the evacuation zone at the height of the storm. “We cannot risk their lives to help someone who has opted not to evacuate when told to do so,” he said. County watches and waits

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

OCT. 6 | Georgetown County employees were at work Wednesday, a day after Gov. Nikki Haley said government offices and schools in 25 counties would close in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew.

The closings were announced to facilitate evacuations in advance of the storm as it crossed from the Caribbean into the Atlantic. But changing predictions about the likely path of the storm along the East Coast prompted Haley to delay an evacuation order for Georgetown County residents. County government adjusted its plans, too.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said he would prefer to be flexible and have employees work. “The logic behind the governor’s order,” he said, “was that she didn’t want county or municipal employees moving back and forth competing for highway space during the evacuation.”

Hemingway had county workers come to work Wednesday, thinking he would close offices at noon prior to the 3 p.m. evacuation order. When Haley delayed the evacuation, county workers were told to work all day.

The new target for evacuations to start in the county was 7 a.m. Thursday. That was extended to noon.

Georgetown County schools were closed Wednesday. Superintendent Randy Dozier said he expected to close Thursday and Friday, but not three days. “I was a little surprised when we got the order,” he said, but he understood the reasoning. “It’s a big storm and a big effort.”

Andrews Elementary School opened as an evacuation shelter Wednesday even though the actual evacuation was delayed. Pleasant Hill Elementary is also a shelter. Browns Ferry Elementary is a staging point for law enforcement.

Although there are no shelters on Waccamaw Neck, Waccamaw Intermediate was also designated a staging area for emergency services and the Coast Guard.

“Most people don’t realize the level of support the school district provides to emergency operations,” said Alan Walters, the district’s safety manager.

Although Haley ordered the evacuations, which began Wednesday in Beaufort and Charleston counties, the state allowed local emergency management officials to decide what areas to evacuate.

Georgetown County opted for the low-lying areas along the beaches and creeks. Those are designated as Zone A.

Storm surge and flooding are the criteria used for evacuations, not wind speed, said Sam Hodge, the county’s Emergency Management director.

People have been advised for the past two years to “Know Your Zone” and be prepared for flood waters. As an Eagle Scout project, Bobby Walters (Alan Walters’ son) attached colored bands to county street sign poles to indicate the zones: red, Zone A; yellow, Zone B; and orange Zone C.

“Pawleys Island and the Waccamaw Neck east of Highway 17 are in Zone A,” Hodge said. “We added the area along the Intracoastal Waterway to Zone A. For a Category 4 or 5 we are looking at evacuating 75 percent of Georgetown County — to Nine-Mile Curve and halfway to Pleasant Hill.”

He said the worst case scenario for Georgetown County is a hurricane making landfall south of Winyah Bay and pushing water up the bay and its four rivers. He has warned about complacency. People forget that Hurricane Hugo was just a Category 1 storm by the time it hit here in 1989, he said.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service predict that even if Hurricane Matthew remains at sea, the state’s coast could see tropical storm-force winds and flooding. People in potentially vulnerable areas should review personal safety plans, become familiar with evacuation zones and determine the nearest hurricane evacuation routes. “It’s too soon to rule out any possibilities,” S.C. Emergency Management Department director Kim Stenson said. A total of 1,700 sandbags were being sent to Georgetown.

Hodge said people with special medical needs will be sheltered in Lake City. They should register in advance with his office and take a caregiver with them. Pets are a primary reason people are reluctant to evacuate. Hodge said there are a number of pet friendly hotels. A list is available by calling the Emergency Management office.

Once evacuations begin, Hodge said, residents planning to stay in their homes should understand that emergency personnel will not be able to respond during the storm. “If you leave home,” he said, “you cannot return home. There will be traffic control points that are going to send you south through Georgetown and Andrews if you live south of Garden City. From Surfside Beach north, those folks are going north.”

Haley said 712 Highway Patrol troopers will be assisting evacuation traffic along with 1,543 other state officers and 1,400 local officers.

Hodge said Georgetown County needs 19 to 22 hours to evacuate for a Category 3 storm while Horry needs 24 to 30 hours. “We must ensure travelers on the road are in a safe area, west of I-95, before the onset of tropical storm force winds of 34 miles per hour,” he said.

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