Hurricane prep should include return plan - and a Plan B

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Residents who tried to return to Beaufort County on Oct. 9, 2016, before the official re-entry word was given after Hurricane Matthew, jammed I-95 and many spent the night in their cars. PHOTO BY BRIAN TREACY

There's a very good reason why then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley issued a state of emergency and mandatory evacuation order on Oct. 5, 2016, nearly three days before Category 2 Hurricane Matthew battered the Lowcountry with high winds and pounding rain: human safety.

"This is not something we want to play with," Haley announced at the time. "I don't want to sit there and talk about fatalities."

"If one person stays behind, it's one person too many," said Tom Dunn, emergency management coordinator in the Hilton Head Fire Department.

By most accounts, more than half the residents of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island heeded her call and hit the road.

Even though the federal government suggests planning for a three-day exodus during an evacuation, officials strongly recommend packing for a longer absence. Most local evacuees were away from home for nearly a week before re-entry was granted.

The state-issued re-entry order isn't a rubber-stamp decision.

"Safe means there are no trees in the road, no live power lines in the road, and we have a functioning hospital emergency room to take patients," said Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, Beaufort County emergency management director.

And he cautioned, even after returning home, assuming you can access it, your home might be unliveable or have suffered damage. You might have no electricity or cell phone service, and the neighborhood pharmacy or grocery store might be closed or have no food.

"You need to have a Plan B," Baxley advised. "It may be awhile before the trucks can come in."

Being aware as best you can in the Columbia hotel room or your sister's home in Atlanta is strongly advised - as is getting your information from official sources, not random social media posts from friends.

"If you get (information) from the government official sources, we're going to tell you what the situation is. We'll tell you that a bridge has been severely compromised. We'll tell you that there is no electricity in this area, and we'll let you know when it will be restored."

When anticipating your return following hurricane evacuation, plan ahead, be patient, be smart, stay informed and don't take risks.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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