Lowcountry officials preparing for potential Hurricane Irma threats

Lowcountry officials preparing for potential Hurricane Irma threats
Published: Sep. 5, 2017 at 8:45 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 5, 2017 at 8:59 PM EDT
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BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - Preparation is underway in the Lowcountry in case Irma threatens the area.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office will hold its emergency response press conference on Wednesday to let us know what their plans are for the storm and what you need to know before, during, and after if it hits our area.

It's kind of like deja vu. We are a month shy of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Matthew, and many communities in Beaufort County are still recovering. In fact, the county as a whole has bills totaling more than $31 million - none of which has been reimbursed yet. Thousands of people were without power for days. Tens of thousands of trees were knocked down, adding to Hilton Head Island's roadway debris - totaling more than 2 million cubic yards. The county collected 1.6 million cubic yards of road debris, coming in at $27 million for removal, and almost 20,000 cubic yards of marine debris.

In the midst of still trying to get reimbursement and repair, the county is now faced with the uncertainty of Hurricane Irma. The fire department has been keeping an eye on the sky since May when hurricane season kicked off. They'll be fully-staffed at about 65 people during this time. The chief expressed what big concerns we can expect in this area.

"There is a high probability that we will lose power and be without power for a long time. Communication can be interrupted, heating and air condition can be interrupted. Further on from there, we could see minor flooding, trees down to major flooding, and devastation depending on the strength and storm surge," said Reece Bertholf, Fire Chief, City of Beaufort/Town of Port Royal. "As we have seen, there are many routes to receive information when it comes to a hurricane. Even today, on Tuesday, we're still too far out to know exactly what path the hurricane is going to take. Hurricanes are going to do what hurricanes want to do right up until the last minute."

Hilton Head is still behind on cleaning drains and ditches from Matthew, which could cause a problem if Irma brings heavy rain. They'll be lowering lagoons and making sure all pumping systems are online and operational. The town manager identified other areas, like re-entry and communication as things that need to be worked on. He explained one way they're looking to beef up their social media presence and put out information for residents that way.

"There are a lot of small changes on how we operate, how we communicate, how we enter base camp, exit, how we establish ourselves using our employees that have evacuated somewhere and are safe with their family, but they're in a place with good internet access and using them to help with the social media strategy," said Steve Riley, Town Manager, Hilton Head Island.

The biggest thing all agencies are stressing is to be prepared and develop that hurricane plan now; where you will go, what you will take, what you need, how to get ahold of important documents, etc, because if the situation does take a turn for the worst, but could expect to be away from home for days or even weeks.

When it comes to re-entry, if you remember, it was kind of unorganized last year, so this year, towns are working closely with the sheriff's office for guidelines. They'll be holding a press conference on Wednesday. We'll be there to bring you the latest updates.

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