COLUMBIA — Gov. Mark Sanford scrutinized the state's hurricane response plan Thursday, demanding a few fixes from agency directors within the next two weeks to prepare for what's expected to be a very active season.
"South Carolina is more than due for a major hurricane to hit its coast," Sanford said to a room full of state agency directors, who presented detailed plans for highway evacuation, mobilizing National Guard troops, sheltering and emergency communication.
State climatologist Hope Mizzell warned the officials that 17 storms and nine hurricanes are expected this season.
"We are prone to get these early season hits," she said.
Sanford said his biggest concerns are about complacency regarding storm warnings and lack of planning by individual families. Residents should have emergency kits stocked at their homes and a planned evacuation route, he said.
Highway lanes along the coast would be reversed and traffic directed westward, to avoid backups on Interstate 95, in an evacuation but even with the best-laid plans cars would only move between 35 and 45 mph, Sanford said. The state's Department of Transportation also would post camera shots on its Web site of evacuation routes so residents can avoid traffic jams.
"I would really encourage people to leave early and on their own," he said.
Sanford said he's also worried about loose ends in the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's plans. He told agency Commissioner Earl Hunter to complete plans within the next two weeks for evacuating health care facilities and nursing homes and for finding enough nurses to staff the state's 236 shelters in the event of a catastrophic hurricane.
Hunter said the agency would coordinate with the state's health care facilities and nursing homes prior to any voluntary or mandatory evacuations through conference calls and urge them to relocate critical patients at least 48 hours in advance of a storm.
The state's school buses also would be available to help transport patients but the facilities would have to reimburse the state, Hunter said. However, Sanford instructed him to design punitive measures for facilities that rely on the state for transportation.
"What Katrina reminds us of is the fact that these storms aren't just about losing stuff," Sanford said. "People can actually lose their lives."