Uncertainty of Hanna puts evacuations on hold
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Officials along the southern Atlantic coast held off ordering evacuations yesterday 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 yesterday. 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 yesterday 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 United States.
Plans changed yesterday as the forecast did, with officials urging residents to prepare for the possibility of heavy winds and rain as forecasters said the storm might hit farther north than first predicted.
In North Carolina, Governor Mike Easley activated the North Carolina National Guard to help respond to the storm, with up to 270 soldiers expected in place by tomorrow. 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. today.