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Hurricane threat sends reminder to prepare

Irene projected to hit Carolinas, but potential for impact remains

POSTED: August 24, 2011 9:28 a.m.

With Hurricane Irene barreling through the Caribbean, residents and emergency-management agencies alike have been scrambling this week to prepare for the possibility of the storm making landfall in the Southeast.

As of press time Tuesday evening, Liberty County was out of the cone of probability, and the storm looked like it was headed for landfall near North Carolina’s Outer Banks, with the possibility of building into a Category 3 storm overnight.

“We certainly will not give anything up until it moves beyond us,” Liberty County Emergency Management Director Mike Hodges said. Though the chance of the storm affecting Coastal Georgia has dwindled, officials still encourage residents to prepare in case the storm changes courses.  

“The potential still exists for the storm to make a turn and impact us,” he said. “We advise everybody not to take your eyes off of it.”

The National Weather Service’s Monday projection that the storm would make landfall near Brunswick resulted in a deluge of phone calls to emergency management, according Hodges. Leaders called to discuss plans, residents called with concerns, and the team has been listening to weather briefings every few hours.

But the lingering threat from the first hurricane of the 2011 season serves as a reminder that even if Irene bypasses Coastal Georgia, residents are not in the clear just yet, as hurricane season is just ramping up.

Historically, the peak of hurricane activity is in early September, and experts have predicted this season will be especially active, Hodges told a crowd of more than 60 during a town hall meeting on storm preparation Monday night at the Midway City Hall.

Liberty County Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman Neil Jones organized the event, which offered dialogue between citizens and county emergency management and relief workers.

During the meeting, Hodges emphasized the need to plan evacuations and home-protection strategies in advance. He told the audience to prepare a home disaster kit with enough supplies to last at least five days.

Kits should include food, water, medications, first aid supplies, batteries, flashlights and weather radios, he said.

Flood insurance and homeowners or renters insurance are crucial lines of defense for dwellings, and homeowners should consult with their insurance agents about how to defend their homes, he said. Residents also should note that flood insurance policies do not take effect until 30 days after purchase.

Evacuation orders are issued in three stages and should not be taken lightly, as the decision to issue such orders is a collaborative effort between the governor’s office, federal officials and local emergency and government officials, Hodges said.

The county does not provide shelters in the event of a hurricane that strikes from the Atlantic because the risk of flooding is too great, he added. Projections show that a Category 5 hurricane, with winds in excess of 156 miles per hour and a storm surge greater than 19 feet, is capable of causing flooding as far inland as the Dairy Queen on Highway 84 in Hinesville.

“To put people in shelters is just asking for disaster (with the storm surge threat),” Hodges said. The county would open shelters at schools in the event of a strike from the Gulf, if needed.

Red Cross emergency services program coordinator Mark Hunt also emphasized the importance of planning and reminded people not to rely too much on technology.

“How many of you have a GPS?” he asked the crowd. “Your GPS won’t work if it can’t see the satellite, so get a map so you know which way you’re going to go when you evacuate.”

He cautioned the audience to avoid the mistakes that citizens made in advance of Hurricane Katrina, urging people to fill their gas tanks in advance, carry cash and prepare to evacuate.

“The longer you wait, the more people are on those roads, and the more you’re going to be sitting in traffic moving about two miles an hour,” he said.

Both Hodges and Hunt stressed the need to share plans with family members outside of the area and to ensure that other friends and family members within the area also are seeking safety.

Sheriff Steve Sikes and LCSO Chief Keith Moran both spoke about how law-enforcement officials would announce evacuation orders within the streets and would do door-to-door checks to identify those who have stayed so response teams know which areas are most important, and — in the event of fatalities — who to begin identifying.

County Coroner Reggie Pierce, Commissioners Pat Bowen, Eddie Walden and Marion Stevens Sr. and commission Chairman John McIver also spoke at the town hall. Each emphasized the need to spread the meeting’s message.

“The best thing you can do when you leave this room is to tell somebody that isn’t here tonight,” Walden said.

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