Hurricane Dorian offered good response practice

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Weston Newton

Since my last appearance in this space, we've seen good progress on the trash mountain in Jasper County. The Unified Command structure created between the DHEC, EPA and Jasper County has been remarkably effective in reducing the threats to human health, as well as dealing with toxic runoff into the Okatie River.

Sen. Tom Davis, Rep. Bill Herbkersman and I have received daily updates on the progress. We also have been diligent in visiting the site and making certain that reliable information is shared with the public.

With the imminent arrival of Hurricane Dorian in early September, the trash pile was replaced as our top priority.

For reasons that may or may not be attributable to any changes in our climate, storms seem to be becoming more difficult to predict. With that in mind, Gov. Henry McMaster called an evacuation of the coastline several days before the predicted arrival of the storm.

I am convinced that his action was prudent, especially considering the level of uncertainty, as well as the extraordinary power of the storm.

Even though the storm did not cause significant damage, or even that much actual inconvenience in our area, it did afford our emergency management folks an excellent opportunity to run through their procedures of managing the evacuations, not only of residents and visitors, but also gave the assisted living facilities a chance to test their agreements with inland hospitals and other facilities to take our aging and infirmed citizens.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Department, the Beaufort and Jasper counties' governments, the municipalities, and state emergency management people did an exceptional job of coordinating with one another. Also, communication between the governmental entities and the citizenry was excellent.

True, the storm was greatly diminished by the time it reached us, but our emergency management people have another hurricane's worth of experience.

Unfortunately, the storm was in no way diminished as it passed over the northern section of the Bahamas, the Abacos. Dorian was a strong Category 5 hurricane when it slowly made its way over the Abacos, where it stalled. Our friends across the Gulf Stream were tested by more than 36 hours of 185-plus mph winds. The results were beyond devastation.

My friend and delegation partner, Rep. Herbkersman, waited until the worst of the winds abated before flying his sturdy Cessna 182 down to a staging area in Fort Pierce, Florida. He is one of a cadre of independent relief pilots who deliver supplies to devastated areas before the governmental response can be fully mobilized.

At this writing, Bill has been making three round trips per day between Fort Pierce and Treasure Cay, Abacos. As an independent volunteer, he buys his own fuel ($350 per trip), takes no crew to help load and unload - simply because he would rather take more medicine, water purification machines, and baby formula, than have help.

Hurricanes are hard on everyone. They also often bring out our best. Remember Gerrick Taylor after Hurricane Matthew? Or Collins Doughtie, who headed to Charleston in the rain with supplies after Hugo?

Friends, give thanks. We have heroes living among us.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov.

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