Southern U.S. coast nervously watches Hanna

Posted September 2, 2008
Updated September 3, 2008

— Nervous residents rushed to buy plywood and generators while emergency officials in Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas weighed possible evacuations Tuesday as Tropical Storm Hanna was expected to shift toward a tough-to-predict landfall along the southern Atlantic coast by the end of the week.

The National Hurricane Center predicted Hanna would most likely come ashore as a hurricane between Friday and Saturday somewhere between the east coast of Florida and the North Carolina coast. Forecasts Tuesday showed the storm making landfall near the Georgia-South Carolina border.

"The projected path takes it to a Category 1 hurricane and then making landfall anywhere from the middle of Florida up to the southern North Carolina coast because it is going to be moving in such a shallow angle to the coast, a slight track [change] could make a huge difference in where this thing makes landfall," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

Hanna's winds were 65 mph Tuesday evening as it drifted over the Bahamas, but the Hurricane Center said it could intensify Wednesday and Thursday. The storm is expected to turn to the northwest on Wednesday.

"The probability of damaging winds in Raleigh right now is at 5 percent," Fishel said.

If Hanna does cross the central portion of North Carolina, the possibility of tropical storm force winds would start Friday night, Maze said.

Emergency responders in North Carolina are getting ready in case Hanna arrives in the state.

The Civil Air Patrol said Tuesday that units in North Carolina were alerted at about 5 a.m. by state wing commander Lt. Col. David Crawford to be ready to fly disaster relief missions.

Crawford said his wing has more than 1,300 members who could be used by the Air Force and the state for surveillance and ground-support missions.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said state officials are preparing, and he urged residents to make emergency preparations.

"We can't get caught waiting for the storm to make up its mind where it will go," Easley said in a statement.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency as Hanna, downgraded from hurricane status Tuesday but with ample time to regain strength, was forecast to turn to the northwest from the Bahamas. Emergency officials in Georgia and South Carolina went into 24-hour alert mode.

In Savannah, which hasn't seen a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century, Janey Miley took her 15-year-old daughter to Home Depot at lunchtime Tuesday for an impromptu lesson in hurricane preparedness.

They waited in a busy checkout line with a 5-gallon gas can, a circular saw and 10 sheets of plywood in case they needed to board up the windows of their home on nearby Tybee Island. A steady flow of customers pushed carts stocked with everything from batteries to 5,000-watt generators.

"We've never really bought plywood, but it seemed like maybe we'd better do it this time," said Miley, 43, who had also booked hotel reservations in Columbia, S.C., in case her family needed to evacuate.

Local emergency officials for Savannah and surrounding Chatham County urged residents to have an evacuation plan ready. But no decisions on voluntary or mandatory evacuations were expected before Wednesday.

Ken Davis, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said Hanna's unpredictable path made it "a pretty difficult storm" for planners to gauge whether to order evacuations with just a day or two left to decide.

"We're getting closer and closer to the point where decisions have to be made," Davis said. "It's a fine line between calling an evacuation and crying wolf."

Davis said state officials were looking ahead to the possibility of turning Interstate 16 into a one-way escape route westward out of Savannah.

The highway bore the brunt of 2.5 million people fleeing Georgia, Florida and South Carolina when Hurricane Floyd menaced the coast in 1999.

The Georgia State Patrol has since equipped 115 miles of the interstate with orange-striped control gates, much like railroad crossing arms, that can be dropped at entrance ramps to block cars from traveling east during a one-way evacuation.

In Florida, where Hanna is the third storm to threaten in three weeks, Crist's emergency declaration allows the state to more easily mobilize employees, law enforcement personnel and other resources. The governor said residents should prepare for possible flash floods and winds up to 111 mph.

The state Emergency Management Division in South Carolina was monitoring Hanna closely around the clock, but spokesman Derrec Becker said it was too early Tuesday to call for residents to flee.

"At this time there is still so much level of uncertainty, what we're doing right now is simply paying attention to this storm," Becker said.

Meanwhile, college administrators at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., and Charleston Southern University watched the storm for a possible call on whether to cancel football games Saturday, coaches at both schools said.

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries asked fishermen to monitor Hanna and two other tropical storms – Ike and Josephine – developing far out in the Atlantic. It said fishermen should remove gear such as nets and crab pots from the coastal waters ahead of storms and check their own safety equipment.

FEMA regional administrator Phil May said the agency will send federal liaisons and disaster response teams to Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina on Wednesday to prepare for Hanna.

FEMA is already pouring supplies and resources, like search and rescue teams, into the region. And it is scrambling to move some supplies from the Gulf Coast back toward the Atlantic seaboard.

"We'll be moving things that may have been in position for Gustav back this way in case of Hanna," said May, who is based in Atlanta. "There's a lot of moving parts."

He said a team dispatched to Florida to deal with the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay will stay there to plan for Ike, which could threaten Florida after Hanna passes.


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  • teacher-mom Sep 2, 2008

    I hope it turns out to the Atlantic. The same for I and J.

  • EZeegoing Sep 2, 2008

    Aside from possible wind or water damage, this storm could wash out the Saturday night Nascar race at Richmond....moan....

  • Hip-Shot Sep 2, 2008

    "I am one of the people who lost their home in that flood from Floyd."

    I lost mine as well in that terrible storm, and we decided to rebuild. We lived out in the country just East of Rocky Mount.
    If we had known that we would be annexed afterward, we might have not rebuilt but instead taken the FEMA buyout.

  • Fiddlemom Sep 2, 2008

    Like many posters here, I too am concerned about the damage that Fran wrought and knowing it could happen again., such as being without power and trees down everywhere. Most North Carolinians I know did not wait around for someone to 'rescue' us, we helped each other. I have a large family and keep many emergency supplies year round and have studied basic survival skills just in case .My husband has enough wood chopped and stacked for a 10 year nuclear winter! We raise our own beef and garden and both work fulltime but our grown sons know how to camp, fish, hunt if the need arises. Sure it would be uncomfortable to be without power as it was before, but we got through it. As in everything, learn all you can because knowledge is power. So If a cat 5 came through here, we would have no choice but to do for ourselves and help our neighbors help themselves, right?

  • ThisIsMyName Sep 2, 2008

    Generator, $1200. 10 cases of water $50. Not having to live without any of my luxuries for 3 days, priceless.

  • unaffiliated_voter Sep 2, 2008

    From what I see, it looks like the current forecast has the center passing near Raleigh in the middle of the night Friday night/Saturday morning. If I recall correctly, that would be exactly 12 years almost to the hour after Fran roared through. Let's hope Hanna's nothing like that. Right now it doesn't look like it would be that strong by the time it gets here...and there's still plenty of time for things to change in the atmosphere and send it somewhere else. It would be a very interesting coincidence though...

  • preppykev2004 Sep 2, 2008

    george, you are about as picky and full of gripes as you can be. meteorology is not an exact science. they do the best they can to inform us of what will happen in the imminent future. true they may not have it right everytime, but weather can change in an instant.

  • thirdandlong Sep 2, 2008

    So I just watched the forecast on TV and instead of telling us what could happen in different senerios in an "if" type environment they just tell us where the track might go. AN "if" forecast would get you more viewers to stay tuned...think about it Chris Holmann looks silly. we should just tune into NOAA.

  • bs101fly Sep 2, 2008

    no one should worry A BIT, this will be a non-story for us by Thursday.
    Whatcha thunk about that Mr. Fishel?

  • DaddysAngel27 Sep 2, 2008

    Not to be rude to WRAL but, I seen that Georgia, south Carolina and Florida were mentioned about Hurricane Floyd in 1999. What about our state? NC seemed to have gotten the worse of that storm. I am one of the people who lost their home in that flood from Floyd.