As Lowcountry emergency crews keep an eye on Tropical Storm Erika, Beaufort County Emergency Management Director Lt. Col. Neil Baxley says residents could be evacuated 48 hours ahead of a storm, but he will only request the governor order evacuation if the storm is a hurricane with Beaufort County in its path.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of water to flood us,” Baxley says of the low-lying areas that cover most of Beaufort County.
Thursday thunderstorms flooded several Beaufort streets. “That gives us a foretaste of what will happen when we have a tropical storm come in, that continues to blow for hours,” Baxley says.
Emergency staff is preparing for the worst scenario, but as of Friday morning, Baxley did not believe much of Erika would impact the Lowcountry.
If things worsen, “when the situation gets close enough, then what we’ll do is we will make a recommendation to the state emergency management division, based on the forecast from the National Weather Service, that hey, we need to evacuate Beaufort County,” Baxley says.
In that case, evacuation routes show three major highways for neighbors to use, SC 46, Highway 278, and Highway 21. Residents would be called on to leave before winds reached tropical storm intensity.
“Tropical storm winds are sustained 39 mile-per-hour winds. They will play havoc with vehicles on an open roadway,” Baxley says.
Firefighters are preparing their life-saving equipment, too. They won’t run trucks in winds past 50 mph, because the large trucks could become a safety hazard. However, they will assist neighbors to safety while they can.
“So, we’re going to hunker ourselves down, put our equipment where it needs to be, and wait out a storm so those winds can come down and make it safer for us to return and do the work we know folks expect of us,” Lt. Lee Levesque says.