Hurricane Matthew 5 year anniversary: Lessons learned in evacuations

WSAV Hurricane Central

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Five years ago on October 7, 2016, Hurricane Matthew began to brush the Georgia and South Carolina coasts as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph sustained wind.

Some of the greatest effects were felt during the overnight hours. 

While it was not a direct hit to the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, the impacts from this storm created some of the worst flooding and wind damage in recent memory.  

Flooding from excessive rainfall and storm surge was a major issue. Areas along the coast received well over a foot of rain. The storm surge experienced along our coast was the highest ever recorded.  

The tide gauge located at Fort Pulaski reached 12.56 feet, which is the highest level ever reported. That record still stands today. 

Many other areas along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts had over 3 feet of saltwater inundation from storm surge. 

Whenever a storm like Matthew poses a threat to Chatham County, the Chatham County Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) puts its hurricane preparedness plan into action.  

WSAV News 3 talked with CEMA director Dennis Jones about the main lessons the agency learned from Hurricane Matthew and how it has shaped the county’s current hurricane preparedness plan.  

Chatham County was divided into two evacuation zones prior to Matthew: zones A and B. Zone A encompassed everything along and east of I-95 to the coast. Zone B was everything west of I-95. 

Now, to help streamline evacuations, Chatham County is split into three zones. Zone A is everything east of the Truman Parkway, which includes the islands. Zone B is the area between I-95 and the Truman Parkway. Zone C includes everything along and west of I-95. 

This was done to make it easier to communicate when areas need to evacuate ahead of a storm and to ensure that certain areas have ample time to evacuate the county. 

CEMA also learned from Matthew that communicating threats and evacuation information needed to be improved.  

Lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew led CEMA to create a joint information team, including CEMA and public information officers who help to craft the message and the method of communication. This ensures that information is effectively distributed to people who needed it in the community. 

CEMA always urges the public to stay weather aware and to work to have a plan in place to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of severe weather and tropical weather. 

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