COVID-19 affecting storm preparations, shelters in Lowcountry

WSAV Hurricane Central

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Bertha’s arrival is the latest reminder that hurricane season is days away, and now is the time to prepare.

And with COVID-19 still hovering over the entire area, Beaufort County is exploring alternative plans to help you stay safe.

“We continue to plan all the time and work through exercises, work through logistics questions,” said Beaufort County Emergency Management Director Colonel Neil Baxley.

He hopes everyone else will take it just as seriously as he is.

“There’s an undercurrent of folks out there that unless it is a category five we are going to ride it out,” said Baxley. “That’s a bad idea. Category 1 Matthew right along the beach tropical storm did a tremendous amount of damage. Lots of trees down, lots of flooding.

“Riding it out was a bad idea then; it continues to be a bad idea.”

The pandemic poses a new challenge for officials — how to give everyone who needs it shelter from the storm safely.

“A shelter that last year would have held 1,200 this year will now hold in the neighborhood of 450,” details Baxley. “That means we will have to have more shelters prepared and ready and folks have to think ‘well I am just going to run over to the Jasper High School shelter’ and take shelter there. If you aren’t the first ones in the door you will be sent further west.”

Those “further west” shelters, Baxley says will be at the ready in Hampton County, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell. Even other areas not used since Hurricane Floyd hit, like Anderson and Pickens would take people if need be.

Baxley says the key is to be ready early and don’t wait it out hoping for a change or thinking you know more than the experts.

“If the experts at the National Hurricane Center/National Weather Service say ‘this is a Category so-and-so storm and it presents this type of threats’ then it really does mean it’s a threat to you, the individual,” says Baxley.

He reminds everyone not to assume a friend will be able to take you in, or not hesitate, because of the COVID-19 threat.

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