Haley tours coast with advent of hurricane season

Gov. Nikki Haley answers a question during a news conference in North Charleston on Friday as Kim Stenson, the director of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division looks on.

Gov. Nikki Haley, encouraged by the way South Carolinians responded to last winter's ice storms, is now urging residents to prepare for the hurricane season that begins on Sunday.

"This is the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo so it's not will it happen. It can happen, we have seen it first-hand," she said Friday in North Charleston, during a trip to three coastal counties to meet with local emergency officials.

"Charleston will be ready. The state will be ready. What we're asking is for the citizens to be ready," she added.

Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds, smashed into South Carolina in September of 1989 causing $6.5 billion in damage. Emergency officials say if the same storm were to hit today in the same place, it could cause upward to $17 billion in damage and destroy 21,000 homes.

"What I worry (about) more than anything is we feel a bit safe," the governor said. "There hasn't been a hurricane in a long time and we need to remember that even though they are saying that this isn't going to be an active season, it only takes one."

But Haley said she was encouraged by the way South Carolinians responded to last winter's two ice storms.

The storm in February, the worst winter storm in a decade, left as much as an inch of ice that snapped trees and it dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the Upstate. At one point power was cut to 350,000 electric customers.

"What I appreciated is when we asked everyone to stay home they did," Haley said. "I appreciated the fact that the people understood we don't take this lightly. We don't tell you to stay home lightly."

Some of the ways the state is preparing for the hurricane season that begins Sunday and runs through the end of November:

State and local agencies will hold an exercise Tuesday to test hurricane evacuation plans that include reversing lanes on Interstate 26 as well as U.S. routes 21, 278, and 501 and South Carolina Route 544. The exercise will not affect traffic and no lanes will be reversed. Lane reversals are used as a storm approaches the coast to help traffic move more quickly from the coast.

State and local agencies on Wednesday will test their plans for responding to a storm including testing how damage assessments will be done afterward. On Thursday, a mobile operations center will be set up at the Georgetown County Airport as part of the test.

Throughout the hurricane season, emergency officials will use social media to highlight the impacts of Hugo and what would happen if a similar storm hit today.