Experts: Hanna could strike as at least minimal hurricane by Friday

A very-well-prepared David Moorer puts pre-measured and pre-drilled sheets of wood panels over studs he'd installed on the windows of his home off Fort Johnson Road on James Island on Tuesday. With Tropical Storm Hanna bearing down on the South Carolina c

Nerves began to show Tuesday as the Lowcountry braced for a possible hurricane and emergency operations started up across the three-county area.

Tropical Storm Hanna continued to meander southeast of the Bahamas. No one could say yet where this storm will head, although hurricane specialists continue to call for landfall on the Southeast coast as early as Friday, as at least a minimal hurricane with 80 mph winds.

Forecast tracks late Tuesday put the bull's-eye on the South Carolina coast between Savannah and Charleston. As the storm began turning a slow circle about 450 miles below Nassau, Bahamas, its possible path ranged from making landfall in Florida to staying out to sea past the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

"Savannah seems to be the hot spot right now," said meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, with AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting company. "The farther southwest it goes, the more likely it will head up into the Florida peninsula."

As people began to crowd stores for hurricane supplies, Charleston County Emergency Preparedness stepped up its alert level, bringing key staff to the Leeds Avenue center and readying for 24-hour operations today.

There's a potential that voluntary evacuations could begin then, said Cathy Haynes, director.

If the storm heads this way Friday, that won't leave a lot of time to move a lot of people.

"It's very difficult," Haynes said. "That's why we're taking steps right now. Hopefully (the preparations) will keep us from behind the eight ball."

Schools in the three counties warned parents to be ready for weather closings and were waiting for recommendations from the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center before making announcements today.

Charleston County schools planned to follow regular schedules today but canceled all after-school activities, programs and sports. Officials expect to announce at 1 p.m. today whether schools will close Thursday and Friday.

Charleston Air Force Base was placed on alert and personnel began preparing for the storm. North Charleston, among other governments, opened its emergency operations center.

Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island officials have begun handing out hurricane stickers to allow evacuating residents to return to the island after a storm. Folly Beach town officials said residents should bring along a photo ID and proof of residence to get back on the island.

On the beach Tuesday no one was in a hurry to give up the sun or the big, storm-rolled waves. Michael Fishbach kept one eye on the weather and the other on the breakers coming in.

"I'll keep updated with it, so if it hits, we'll leave. If it doesn't, we'll surf," he said.

Alicia Carney of West Ashley entertained out-of-town visitors by taking them to the beach, but she expected to buy supplies later in the day.

"You don't want to be caught unprepared," Carney said. "We're hoping it won't hit hard, but we don't want a Katrina here in Charleston."

Residents began stocking up on hurricane supplies at Lowe's on James Island. Dan Elkin, store manager, said business began picking up Monday. "People are loading up on water," he said.

Out in the parking lot, West Ashley resident Lloyd Roberts loaded his pickup with weather protection sheets. "It's cheaper and quicker than plywood," he said.

In Charleston, a temporary emergency operations center was set up at City Hall, and city crews were making preparations that included filling sand bags that could be distributed if necessary, and renting a bucket truck so that the windows on City Hall could be covered today if Hanna was still tracking toward the city.

Mayor Joe Riley urged city residents to get prepared, and to consider leaving town today.

"(Today) would really be the day for people to move if they want to use their route of choice," Riley said. If an evacuation is ordered, options for travel could be limited by lane reversals on major routes out of town, including Interstate 26 and S.C. Highway 61. Traffic would be very heavy.

"If people wait until Thursday, even with the lane reversal, it would be a mess," Riley said. "One thing is certain. When this storm makes its move to the northwest it will move very rapidly." The city is encouraging residents to check on elderly neighbors, and make sure debris is not blocking storm drains.

"We all know that Ike and Josephine are right behind Hanna," Riley said. "This is a time when we all need to be prepared. This has the likelihood of being a severe hurricane. A Category 1 hurricane is a very dangerous event."

Mount Pleasant Town Administrator Mac Burdette said the staff met Tuesday to discuss storm preparations. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was the last major storm to directly hit the town. At that time, the population was about 30,000. Today, more than 60,000 people call the town home.

"We've got a lot more people out there who haven't been through a hurricane," Burdette said.

Strong winds from Hurricane Gustav continued to cut through and weaken Hanna on Tuesday, but National Hurricane Center forecasters expect it regain hurricane strength today or Thursday.

With the storm likely to ride the coastline before making landfall, they warned that a slight veer of the storm could make a big difference in where it hits and how strong it will be.

As if that weren't bad enough, two tropical storms, Ike and Josephine, are making their way across the Atlantic behind Hanna.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Charleston is warning of strong shore currents and rip currents along the beaches.

Emergency Shelters

The Emergency Preparedness Divisions of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties provided this list of shelters. However, which shelters are open depends on the storm.

Before going to any shelter, call the Charleston County Citizens Information Line at 202-7100; or in Spanish, 202-7191, for updated information or listen to local media outlets.

Berkeley County

In a voluntary evacuation, these shelters may be opened:

Cainhoy Elementary/Middle

2434 Cainhoy Road; Huger

Goose Creek High

1137 Red Bank Road; Goose Cr.

Hanahan Middle

5815 Murray Drive; Hanahan

Berkeley High

406 W. Main St.; Moncks Crn.

St. Stephen Elementary

1053 Russellville Road; St. Stephen

In a mandatory evacuation, these additional shelters may be opened:

Cross Elementary

1325 Ranger Drive; Cross

Sangaree Elementary

1460 Royle Road; Sangaree/Ladson

Westview Primary

98 Westview Blvd.; Goose Cr.

Macedonia Middle

200 Macedonia Foxes Circle; Macedonia

Stratford High

951 Crowfield Blvd.; Goose Cr.

Charleston County

In a voluntary evacuation, these shelters may be opened:

Stall High School

7749 Pinehurst St.; North Charleston

Midland Park Elementary

2415 Midland Park Road; North Charleston

Morningside Middle

1999 Singley Lane; North Charleston

In a mandatory evacuation, these additional shelters may be opened:

Garrett Academy of Technology

2731 Gordon St.; North Charleston

A.C. Corcoran Elementary

8585 Vistavia Road; North Charleston

Pepperhill Elementary

3300 Creola Road; North Charleston

Brentwood Middle

2685 Leeds Ave.; North Charleston

Dorchester County

In a voluntary evacuation, the following shelters may be opened.

Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary

1650 E. Main St.; Dorchester

Fort Dorchester High

8500 Patriot Blvd.; North Charleston

Summerville High

1101 Boone Hill Road; Summerville

In a mandatory evacuation, these additional shelters may be opened:

Woodland High

4128 U.S. Highway 78; Dorchester

Summerville Elementary

835 South Main St.; Summerville

Beech Hill Elementary

1001 Beech Hill Road; Summerville

Other shelters

Shelters that could be opened as needed:

Berkeley County

Devon Forest

1127 Dorothy St.; Goose Cr.

Westview Elementary

100 Westview Blvd.; Goose Cr.

Westview Middle

101 Westview Blvd.; Goose Cr.

Sedgefield Middle

131 Charles B. Gibson Blvd.; Goose Creek

Sedgefield Intermediate

225 Garwood Dr.; Goose Cr.

Berkeley Elementary

715 S.C. Highway 6; Moncks Cr.

Whitesville Elementary

324 Gaillard Road; Moncks Cr.

Charleston County

Lambs Elementary

6800 Dorchester Road; North Charleston

Ladson Elementary

3321 Ladson Road; Ladson

Matilda F. Dunston Elementary

1825 Remount Road; North Charleston

Orange Grove Elementary at the Ronald E. McNair Building

3795 Spruill Ave.; North Charleston

Special medical needs shelters

Anyone wishing to use these should call the Charleston County Citizens Information Line at 202-7100 first.

Berkeley Intermediate

777 Stoney Landing Road; Moncks Corner

Alice Birney Middle

7750 Pinehurst St.; North Charleston

Summerville sr. Center

312 North Laurel St.; Summerville

Shelters that could be opened after a storm:

Possible options

Berkeley County

Hanahan High

6015 Murray Drive; Hanahan

Berkeley Middle

320 North Live Oak Drive; Moncks Corner

Sangaree Intermediate

201 School House Lane; Summerville

St. Stephen Middle

225 Carolina Drive; St. Stephen

Hanahan Elementary

4000 Mabeline Road; Hanahan

Charleston County

Minnie Hughes Elementary

8548 Willtown Road; Hollywood

E.B. Ellington Elementary

5600 Ellington School Road; Ravenel

C.C. Blaney Elementary

7184 S.C. Highway 162; Hollywood

What to do and when to do it

Before a storm

Prepare an evacuation plan

--Identify ahead of time where you could go if you are told to evacuate. Choose several places — a friend's home in another town, a motel or a shelter.

--Keep handy the telephone numbers of these places, as well as a road map of your locality. You may need to take alternative or unfamiliar routes if major roads are closed or clogged.

--Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or local radio or TV stations for evacuation instructions. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

What to take with you

--Prescription medications and medical supplies.

--Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows.

--Bottled water, battery-operated radio and extra batteries, first-aid kit, flashlight.

--Car keys and road maps.

--Documents, including driver's license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.

Assemble a disaster supplies kit

These items should be included:

--First-aid kit and essential medications.

--Canned food and can opener.

--At least 3 gallons of water per person.

--Protective clothing, rainwear and bedding or sleeping bags.

--Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.

--Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members.

--Written instructions on how to turn off electricity, gas and water if authorities advise you to do so. (Remember, you'll need a professional to turn them back on.)

Prepare for high winds

--Install hurricane shutters or purchase precut 5/8-inch outdoor plywood boards for each window of your home. Install anchors for the plywood and predrill holes in the plywood so that you can put it up quickly.

--Make trees more wind-resistant by removing diseased and damaged limbs, then strategically removing branches so that wind can blow through.

When under a hurricane watch

--Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or local radio or TV stations for up-to-date storm information.

--Prepare to bring inside any lawn furniture, outdoor decorations or ornaments, trash cans, hanging plants and anything else that can be picked up by the wind.

--Prepare to cover all windows of your home. If shutters have not been installed, use precut plywood as previously described.

Note: Tape does not prevent windows from breaking, so taping windows is not recommended.

--Fill your car's gas tank.

--Tie-downs on manufactured homes.

--Check batteries and stock up on canned food, first-aid supplies, drinking water and medications.

When under a hurricane warning

--Listen to the advice of local officials, and leave if they tell you to do so.

--Complete preparation activities.

--If you are not advised to evacuate, stay indoors, away from windows.

--Be alert for tornadoes. Tornadoes can happen during a hurricane and after it passes over. Remain indoors, in the center of your home, in a closet or bathroom without windows.

--Stay away from flood waters. If you come upon a flooded road, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car and climb to higher ground.

During a storm

--Stay inside in a safe place.

--Closely monitor radio, TV or NOAA Weather Radio for official bulletins.

--Close storm shutters.

--Follow instructions issued by local officials. Leave immediately if ordered!

If staying in a home

--Turn refrigerator to maximum cold and keep closed.

--Turn off utilities if told to by authorities.

--Turn off propane tanks.

--Unplug small appliances.

--Fill bathtub and large containers with water in case tap water is unavailable. Use water in bathtubs for cleaning and flushing only. Do NOT drink it.

If winds become strong and you did not evacuate

--Stay away from windows and doors, even if they are covered.

--Take refuge in a small interior room, closet or hallway.

--Be alert for:

1. Tornadoes: They are often spawned by hurricanes.

2. The calm eye of the storm: It may seem like the storm is over but after the eye passes, the winds will change direction and quickly return to hurricane force.

3. Storm surge flooding: These high waves can be more deadly than hurricane winds. Leave the coast and stay away from low-lying areas, creeks, streams and other inland waterways.

After a storm

--Keep listening to radio, TV or NOAA Weather Radio.

--Wait until an area is declared safe before entering.

--Watch for closed roads. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, turn around.

--Avoid weakened bridges and washed-out roads.

--Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from power lines.

--Once home, check gas, water and electrical lines and appliances for damage.

--Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Never use candles and other open flames indoors.

--Do not drink or prepare food with tap water until officials say it is safe.

--If using a generator, ventilate and avoid electrocution by following manufacturers' instructions and electric code.

Diette Courrégé, Edward C. Fennell, Prentiss Findlay, Lauren Santander and David Slade contributed to this report. Reach Bo Petersen at bpetersen@postandcourier.com or 745-5852.