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As storms brew, make safety a priority

POSTED: August 30, 2010 3:16 p.m.
Residents who plan to stay in a Liberty County shelter should a major hurricane approach may want to think again.
September is the most active hurricane month, and local emergency officials are warning people to prepare themselves and make an evacuation plan — just in case.
Although Liberty County does have designated shelters, under standards set by the American Red Cross and the state of Georgia, they are not built to accommodate people before or during a major hurricane.
The shelters are only available to the public after a hurricane has hit, leaving residents’ homes uninhabitable, said Mike Hodges, director of the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s a danger to house people in a potential flooding area,” said Hodges regarding the policy to keep shelters closed during a hurricane. “Us being coastal, that’s the reason we do that.”
He pointed out that some of the newer schools would be great hurricane shelters, “but if you’re going to put people in them and drown them, they’re no good,” he said.
The EMA director said some shelters outside Liberty County do stay open during hurricanes. However, he said, residents who plan to stay in emergency shelters should find out in advance which ones will be open and keep in mind the facilities may reach capacity quickly.
Coastal regions do not keep shelters open during major weather instances, Hodges said.
“People get it set in their heads that they can go to certain shelters,” said Larry Logan, deputy director of the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency. “It may not be the case.”
For those seeking shelter, facilities further inland — in Long County, for example, — may remain open during a hurricane, Hodges said.
However, depending on the size and strength of the storm, a shelter’s “open” status may change rapidly.
Evacuations come in two parts. The EMA may ask people to evacuate voluntarily. “At that point, roads aren’t bad,” Hodges said.
The second phase is a governor-mandated evacuation order. That is often the point when people realize the seriousness of the storm and will want to leave, the EMA director said. Only about 10 percent of people will stay behind after a governor-mandated evacuation, he said.
“We can’t make somebody leave,” Hodges said. “We want people to know it is not a quick decision or a cheap decision (to make them leave home).”
For those prepared to hit the road the minute a hurricane heads toward Liberty County, Hodges advises families to plot a well-thought-out evacuation route. Because shelters can house anywhere from 50 to 1,000 people, the conditions are not ideal for comfort.
“There are no cots in shelters, no video games,” he said. “It’s a get-by remedy. You’re not going be real happy there.”
Hodges also has a warning for residents who want to stay behind to protect their possessions: “My advice? Don’t let your belongings kill your family.”
 

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