By Martine Wolfe-Miller, Mount Pleasant Communications Officer
MOUNT PLEASANT, SOUTH CAROLINA (October 2, 2016) – Hurricane Matthew is weakening over the central Caribbean south of Haiti, but the Category 4 hurricane is expected to move northwards later today and deliver a punishing blow to the islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, and Jamaica on Monday and Tuesday. In light of the activity in the Atlantic Basin, Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page is calling on all citizens to remain alert and be prepared.
“Our annual drills, quarterly exercises, and ongoing hurricane preparedness assure me that our staff is ready to face the challenges of any hurricane season,” said Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page. “But I also want to make sure that our residents are equally prepared and know what to do if a major storm strikes Mount Pleasant.”
The North Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) is predicting a 70 percent likelihood of 6 to 11 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including zero to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). While a below-normal season is likely (70 percent), there is also a 20 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.
“Mount Pleasant has been very lucky in recent years. Winds have steered most of the tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastline,” said Town Administrator Eric DeMoura. “However, we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We always need to be prepared.”
“The topography of Mount Pleasant makes the answer very clear: all residents should prepare for a major hurricane and evacuate when asked. Evacuation is the primary answer to a major hurricane. No other options are available to residents, given the major effects that a storm surge, winds, and flooding would have on our Town,” he concluded. “Be prepared to evacuate.”
A low lying coastal town
Remember that most of Mount Pleasant is in a flood zone, with the exception of an ancient dune line under US 17 at an elevation of about 20 feet. The line provides most of the highest elevations in the Town. The barrier islands are Mount Pleasant’s first line of defense and will provide some degree of protection.
During a major storm, Mount Pleasant would see the water recede back to sea level at the conclusion of the storm and not “pond” as it did in New Orleans during Katrina. We would expect the loss some of our residential units with a category 3 or category 4 storm.
The strength of hurricane force winds can be equally dangerous. Fire Chief Herb Williams was stationed at Fire Station 2 during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and recalled the power of winds. “When daylight came, the world seemed to have come to an end. Power lines were down everywhere and it looked like someone had dropped a bomb in the middle of Mount Pleasant,” he said. “The most terrifying experience was the presence of winds during the storm. Fire Station 2 was sustaining extreme gusts and the building was expanding, breathing, as if it was ready to explode. We had our gear on and sought protection under our trucks. We could not leave the shelter of the station until Hugo had passed.”
Chief Williams will not allow his firefighters to begin rescue operations during the height of the storm. “People will be on their own until we can safely launch rescue operations,” he said. “There are no evacuation shelters East of the Cooper and we do not have the ability to house hurricane evacuees or victims.”
Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power. Tornadoes are most likely to occur in the right-front quadrant of the hurricane. However, they are also often found elsewhere embedded in the rain bands, well away from the center of the hurricane. Some hurricanes seem to produce no tornadoes, while others develop multiple ones. Studies have shown that more than half of the hurricanes reaching landfall produce at least one tornado. During Hugo, much of the property damage was caused by fallen trees, particularly pines. It is believed that micro bursts and tornadic activity were responsible for much of the tree damage.
Take appropriate action – EVACUATE!
The most important thing you can do during a major hurricane event is to secure your property and follow evacuation instructions. Mount Pleasant Fire Department will aid the Police Department with evacuation protocols, patrol neighborhoods and subdivisions with PA systems, as long as safely possible, to alert citizens of the impending danger.
“Leave early. Do not wait for mandatory orders. Choose to leave during the voluntary evacuation orders if you can,” said Police Chief Carl Ritchie. “Reaching Columbia during voluntary orders may take you three hours, waiting for mandatory orders may lengthen your trip considerably. Inland hotels will fill quickly. Make reservations as soon as possible. Do not take boats, trailers, RVs, and extra vehicles when you evacuate. They will only add to the traffic congestion. Find a parking lot and leave them there if you are in a flood zone.”
Evacuation routes will be clearly marked. Police officers will be located at key intersections. Follow directions and instructions. Interstate 26 will be well patrolled. There will be comfort stations all along this route. Eastbound lanes of I-26 will be reversed when an evacuation order is given.
But what should you do if you have no means of transportation and no place to go? Residents in need of emergency transportation and/or shelter can turn to the Charleston County Emergency Management Department for support. A comprehensive plan has been devised to provide transportation for those in need and was tested during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Let the county help you evacuate!
“Charleston County is fully prepared to evacuate stranded Mount Pleasant residents,” said Charleston County Emergency Management Department Chief of Operations Cathy Haynes. “We have a mutual aid county-wide plan that will come into effect during evacuation. Charleston County School District, Durham and CARTA buses will pick up residents on designated routes advertised in the media 24/7. The buses will take the residents to Red Cross shelters. Should these shelters be filled, the buses will take passengers to shelters in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Citizens will have color coded armbands to identify their point of origin and facilitate their return.”
When the announcement of shelter openings is made, pet shelter locations will also be announced. Haynes added that the pet owner must have the animal immunized, and must have enough emergency supplies for both pet and owner, including a crate, a leash and a muzzle. Early evacuation is key. “We strongly encourage residents to heed evacuation warnings and leave as soon as possible. Our bus drivers will continue to evacuate residents until the storm makes driving too dangerous. We are fully committed to providing safe, effective and timely public transportation and shelter to our residents in time of crisis,” concluded Haynes.
Prepare a Family Disaster Plan
- Discuss the type of hazards that could affect your family. Know your home's vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind.
- Determine escape routes from your home and places to meet. These should be measured in tens of miles rather than hundreds of miles. Take a weekend ride if you are not familiar with back roads in South Carolina.
- Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact.
- Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate.
- Check your insurance coverage -- flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
- Stock nonperishable emergency supplies and a Disaster Supply Kit.
- Update prescriptions.
- Visit us online at www.tompsc.com for additional information!
- Identify valuables for transport.
Protect your property – BUY FLOOD INSURANCE!
The most important thing you can do to protect your property value is to purchase home hazard and flood insurance. “Have your insurance up to date, and do not expect to return to Mount Pleasant and to simply have to clean your driveway. There will be significant or devastating damage done to your property after a storm like Katrina,” said Planning Department Deputy Director Lee Cave. “Also take pictures of your furniture and valuables for insurance recovery purposes.”
The most important retrofitting action you can take before evacuating is to reduce damage to your home and property by protecting the areas where wind can enter by boarding up windows and doors. You should secure any yard items that could become projectiles. Have a household plan so that you can quickly identify valuable items that should be secured or packed to transport.
Your immediate return to the area
The Town will make every effort to keep you informed through statewide media outlets about conditions after the storm event. We understand that your interest in returning will be paramount. Nevertheless, you should know what you may be returning to: power outages for a number of weeks, possibility of no public potable water or sewer service, no food services for days, communications devices will likely fail for several days, and the shock of devastation will exceed expectations.
Please make sure that you return with necessary supplies to sustain you in a very primitive environment. Consider not bringing children with you on your initial return. It may take several weeks to open all subdivision streets for vehicular access. Be prepared to access subdivisions by foot from main road arterials. You should not expect schools and daycare centers to open for at least three to six weeks, or even longer in some areas.
Charleston County and Town staff will host seven Points of Distribution (PODs) throughout the Town. PODs are centralized locations where the public can pick up life sustaining commodities such as shelf-stable food (MREs) and water.
Long term recovery
Mount Pleasant will rely upon private contractors for debris removal. Residents will be informed of debris removal rules and schedules. The debris burn pile for Hurricane Hugo from Mount Pleasant alone was 20 feet tall, 50 feet wide, and one half mile long and took six months to clean up. The burn operation took several months. It is a slow and laborious process.
You will be tempted to buy a chain saw to clear your yard of debris. Be careful. If you are not experienced, cutting trees and branches is extremely dangerous. More people died cleaning up after Hugo than died during Hugo.
Be aware that wild animals will have been displaced by the storm and may be found in unexpected places. Use caution when digging through debris.
The Town will establish a very efficient but methodical permitting system for repairs. Owners should take temporary measures to protect their property from the elements prior to making permanent repairs. You must be aware that there will be dishonest individuals offering their services to repair roofs and homes. Check to see if they have a business license first. Make sure they get a building permit. It is for your protection from unlicensed and unqualified workers. Make sure you talk with your insurance adjuster before you authorize repairs. Be wary of “cash up front” deals.
FEMA assistance will be available under certain circumstances. The Town will facilitate your access to FEMA representatives for financial assistance.
For more information about emergency preparedness, contact the Mount Pleasant Communications Office at (843) 884-8517 or download the Town app at ConnectMP. Friend us on Facebook at tompsc or mountpleasantpd. Follow the Mount Pleasant Police Department on Twitter at mountpleasantpd or on their blog at www.mppdnews.blogspot.com
You may also contact the Charleston County Emergency Management Department at (843) 202-7400, online at www.charlestoncounty.org, or download their free app.