Last week was the annual installment of the Chatham Community Hurricane Conference. It once again brought home to me what a blessed corner of the world we call home.
It has been so long since we have been hit by a major storm (Oct. 3, 1898) that many locals have become blasé about hurricane season. The last close call was Hurricane Floyd in mid-September 1999. The best news with Floyd is that it missed us entirely.
Did I mention we are in a blessed part of the world?
The good news with Floyd is it showed us we were not able to evacuate the coast. The traffic snarl has become legendary. That experience quickly resulted (in government years, not human years) in:
1. The three-laning of Interstate 95 in both directions,
2. Developing a "contra-flow" plan for Interstate 16 that converts the eastbound lanes into westbound lanes for the purposes of evacuation, and
3. Agreements between Georgia and Florida and Georgia and South Carolina to close I-95 at our borders to force evacuation to the west.
With those three major changes, emergency planners believe we can evacuate coastal Georgia if necessary. We are sure we cannot evacuate coastal Georgians and a host of fleeing Floridians at the same time. Evacuation routing is an important element in evacuation planning, but it is only one of scores of inter-agency plans and cooperation agreements necessary to maximize protection of lives and property.
The bad part of Hurricane Floyd for Georgia was the traffic snarl, or rather what the traffic snarl did to people’s attitudes about hurricane evacuation. I didn’t evacuate, not because I did not want to, but because I was part of one of the re-entry teams that would clear the roads back into Savannah.
My wife was in Guatemala with the Army Corps of Engineers working hurricane recovery from Hurricane Mitch. which hit the previous year. I had to send our kids off with my neighbors for evacuation.
I heard about the eight hours it took to make what was normally a one-hour trip. Too many people who evacuated, or tried to, came back saying they would ride it out next time rather than be exposed in a traffic jam in a hurricane.
I hope they change their minds. First, much of the reason for the snarl has been corrected. Second, we can keep ourselves out of that situation by planning well in advance where specifically we plan to flee. Like asking Aunt Rhonda now whether she could put us up and for how long. Third, have your bugout box ready to go so you can leave quickly. Fourth, go when the getting is good. Don’t wait until the evacuation is mandatory to move inland. All the good rooms will be taken before you get there.
Fifth, take enough clothes, medicines and money to last a month. If we get hit with a Category 3 or greater\, we will not be allowed back to our homes for probably three weeks. Yes, three weeks.
Those who stay behind to ride out a Cat 3 or larger fit into one of two special categories: casualties or fatalities. Those who think the re-entry rules don’t apply to them also have their own special category: looters.
None of the emergency managers wants to implement their recovery plan because that would mean their communities had suffered the devastation a hurricane brings. New Orleans still has not fully recovered a decade after Hurricane Katrina. The loss of tax digest alone makes recovery slow and painful. The emergency managers have done all they can think of to keep you from becoming a hurricane statistic.
You have to do your part by preparing in advance and evacuating when you should.