Hurricane evacuation survey shows many along coast dont know if they are at risk for storm surge
Too many people who live in the riskiest places for storm surges say they wouldn’t evacuate unless a major hurricane threatened.
For a look at the new hurricane evacuation areas based on storm surge and a look at the S.C. Emergency Management Division hurricane guide, click hyperlinks in the story at postandcourier.com.
For more hurricane resources, go to postandcourier.com/hurricane.
At least one-third aren’t sure if they live in a place that could be flooded by a storm surge from a less powerful storm. Three in every 20 who do live there think they don’t.
Those are maybe the most alarming findings of a survey of more than 3,000 coastal residents in South Carolina.
They’re not the only causes for alarm, the findings indicate.
Partly because of the survey, hurricane evacuations will now be called for in specific areas based on surge zones. Those zones can be viewed in the S.C. Emergency Management Division’s 2012 Hurricane Guide.
The findings were one of the reasons the division no longer will call for voluntary evacuations. People just don’t heed them.
A storm surge is a powerful, flooding coastal overwash from waves pushed higher and stronger by a hurricane. Most hurricane deaths occur in storm surges.
“The lack of awareness is going to lead to either inaction or the wrong action when the time comes,” said Chris Emrich, research assistant professor at the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, which conducted the survey.
Lilla Folsom, who lives on one of the islands behind Folly Beach, wasn’t familiar with the term “storm surge,” but “I know that if a storm is coming, I evacuate,” she said.
Her husband, Foster Folsom, grew up on Folly Beach and both of them have stark memories of the damage from powerful Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
But despite being in the path of a potential storm surge, if a “lesser” hurricane (with winds 110 mph or weaker) came in at high tide, the couple haven’t been likely to evacuate for those storms, she said. “I feel like something that small, we get storms like that all the time.”
New state evacuation protocols are to issue a single evacuation called for by the governor’s order, again partly because of the survey, which indicated nearly four in every five people in the risk areas would evacuate under that order.
Another alarming finding was “shadow evacuations,” Emrich said. People who live outside designated areas said they, too, would evacuate if an order were given.
The extra numbers could cause gridlock on the roadways and use up shelter, fuel and other resources needed by evacuees.
“They’re not in harm’s way (from storm surge), but they’re just going to head out of Dodge,” Emrich said.
That’s a quandary for emergency managers. “We’re going to have ‘shadow evacuations,’?” said EMD spokesman Derrec Becker. “We always encourage people who feel they are in danger to ensure their safety.”
After gridlock during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the state reworked its evacuation plan. The new plan hasn’t been tested in a real evacuation yet, but emergency managers constantly review it, Becker said. “That’s one of the things we always look at.”