It's Atlantic Coast's turn as Hanna eyes Southeast
By BRUCE SMITH – 1 hour ago
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Officials along the southern Atlantic coast held off ordering evacuations Wednesday amid uncertainty about where Tropical Storm Hanna might come ashore and how strong it will be when it gets there.
Instead, they kept close tabs as Hanna battered the southern Bahamas and Haiti. Forecasters tentatively predicted the storm would return to hurricane strength before hitting somewhere along the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts, probably Saturday.
Some coastal residents booked inland hotel rooms while others gave a collective shrug. Officials contemplated whether to order evacuations, make them voluntary or simply tell people to sit tight, a decision complicated by Hanna's unpredictability.
"It's much more difficult than if it's coming straight at you," said Clayton Scott, emergency management director for the county that includes Savannah, Ga.
Hanna, responsible for at least 26 deaths in Haiti, had state disaster planners considering turning major highways into one-way evacuation routes for the roughly 1 million people who live between Savannah and Wilmington, N.C.
"When the governor decides to issue an evacuation order, we know there is $200 billion of residential real estate along the coast and hundreds of thousands of people at risk," said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. "It's not a decision made lightly. We're not going to wait for the last minute."
But no decisions came Wednesday. Forecasts lessened fears of landfall in Savannah, where Scott, the Chatham County emergency management director, said officials didn't plan evacuations unless the projected path changed.
But in a sign that Georgia's oldest city wasn't taking the threat lightly, workers began putting up storm shutters Wednesday over the windows of gold-domed Savannah City Hall.
Hanna spent the last several days meandering between the southern Bahamas and Haiti. The National Hurricane Center forecast called for the storm to turn northwest, gradually curving more toward the U.S.
Hanna comes as New Orleans residents start to return home after fleeing Hurricane Gustav, which did less damage than feared but still caused serious flooding and could leave some in Louisiana without electricity for up to a month.
Plans changed Wednesday as the forecast did, with officials as far north as Washington, D.C., urging residents to prepare for the possibility of heavy winds and rain as forecasters said the storm might hit farther north than first expected.
In North Carolina, Gov. Mike Easley activated the North Carolina National Guard to help respond to the storm, with up to 270 troops expected in place by Friday. He said the storm could bring 10 inches of rain to the state and pleaded with residents to be prepared. Food and other emergency supplies are available at state emergency warehouses — examples of a state accustomed to responding to hurricanes.
"We have in place everything that we need," Easley said.
Cape Lookout National Seashore superintendent Russell Wilson ordered visitors to leave uninhabited islands at the park north of Wilmington, N.C., which will close at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Rangers at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore were pulling out hurricane plans and emergency planners along the state's southern coast were preparing.
"It's going to put our county in hurricane force winds for a while, which we weren't anticipating initially," said Mark Goodman, emergency management director in Onslow County on North Carolina's central coast, home to Camp Lejeune.
In South Carolina, schools planned to stay open and Horry County, closest to the projected path, was to close its emergency center overnight and reopen it Thursday morning.
While no evacuations were ordered Wednesday, Hanna already was disrupting other events. The Marines at Parris Island, S.C., moved their weekly recruit graduation up a day to Thursday. High schools rescheduled football games and the National Guard pushed up weekend exercises by two days in case troops get deployed to help along the coast. South Carolina restricted port operations. In North Carolina, Air Force bases sent planes to Ohio.
In Columbia, some 100 miles from Charleston, resident Gwendolyn Byous, 63, stocked up on supplies at a Wal-Mart.
"We have been so blessed over the past years that you never know," said Byous, who was buying water, canned meat and fruit cocktail. "I told my children drink the water that's in the faucet. That (bottled water) is only for emergencies."
But many were unimpressed by forecasts the storm could bring 80 mph winds as it neared land.
"I'm not evacuating. I don't have any concerns about it. We're going to stay," said Margarita Lynn, 58, as she walked her dogs along a road on Sullivans Island near Charleston.
Lynn said media and people not accustomed to the storms were the ones causing all the ruckus. She said she simply went to the store and bought a new tarp in case her roof was damaged.
Beachfront houses showed few signs a hurricane could be less than three days away. Windows were not boarded up and there was little activity under a blue, cloudless sky.
"We're not hysterical about things like this. We choose to live here," she said. "Every time there is a hurricane, people everywhere get hysterical about it."
Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins, Page Ivey, Susanne M. Schafer and Katrina A. Goggins in Columbia; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga.; and Estes Thompson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS Onslow County is home to Camp Lejeune, not Fort Bragg.)
Hosted by Google
Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.