Beaufort, Jasper counties making preparations for Hurricane Irma - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Beaufort, Jasper counties making preparations for Hurricane Irma

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

The threat of Hurricane Irma continues as agencies across the Coastal Empire get prepared for the worst.

In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster is talking about emergency plans for the state. On a local level, Lowcountry agencies are also in meetings getting their preparations underway. 

One of the closest shelters for residents in our area is in Ridgeland. Jasper County Fire and Rescue says if you can't take care of yourself 100 percent, then this shelter is not for you. The school can hold about 1,100 people, and last year with Hurricane Matthew, more than 800 people had to use the facility but it came with its limitations. 

Ridgeland is the highest point above sea level in the Lowcountry, which is part of the reason it’s designated as a shelter zone. There are no shelters in Beaufort County because of its sea level. During Matthew, hundreds of Beaufort County residents evacuated to the Ridgeland shelter, putting a strain on amenities like blankets and toiletries. Fire and Rescue says the shelter is a temporary fix and you should start making your evacuation decisions sooner than later. 

“It’s for the purpose to house people during the storm, and it’s not a luxury hotel, it’s a shelter. It’s what it says. You’re going to be staying on the floor, you can be on a mat if you have something, you’re going to be in the hallways during the storm. Basically, this is not a five-star hotel. It’s very limited amenities," said Chief Wilbur Daley, Jasper County Fire Rescue. 

The agency was approved for a grant that would expand this shelter’s usage, but as of right now, it's only for the general population and cannot accommodate animals or people with special needs. 

Jasper County does work with the school district to use school buses to transport residents to the shelter. Pick up points are at the designated fire stations.

Beaufort County is already operating at Opcon Level 4 in anticipation of what Hurricane Irma may bring. 

"Up through the Georgia area; that is a real good scenario for us with one exception: tornadoes. Anytime you're on the right side of a storm, you have that threat," said Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, Emergency Director, Beaufort County. "This is not Hurricane Matthew. This is Irma. It's going to be an entirely different scenario and it's going to be considerable more impactful to South Carolina than Matthew was."

No decisions have been made just yet on evacuation, and even though early warnings last year made evacuation pretty smooth, there are alternate factors this time around. 

"People were saying, 'Oh this was nothing, it was also over a four-day period and we also didn't have two other states evacuating the same time, so there are a few factors that are different, so I would ask people if they have family or friends they need to visit anyway. Maybe it's time to take that tiny vacation," said Representative Shannon Erickson, District 124, Beaufort County. 

The county's main concern is communication. There were 144 sources of information during Matthew. The county is hoping to condense that into one main source.

"Even though we might have to tailor some things to Bluffton because Bluffton may be hit differently than Beaufort or Port Royal, but the info is going to come out of here anyway we have to have one voice let it come out of the sheriff's office and then let us look at it to see what we need to do to tailor it to us," said Chief Joe Manning, Bluffton Police Department. 

"Something we must remember on all three of these scenarios - and if it comes to a point to where we are going to evacuate - you've got to remember that we've got - we will have - three states evacuating in the same direction," said Sheriff P.J. Tanner, Beaufort County. 

Representative Erickson identified some lingering issues from Hurricane Matthew - mainly the condition at Hunting Island. The park has been closed for a week because of flooding. The state hasn't been able to complete beach renourishment there either, which could cause a problem with storm surge. 

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