Preparing for hurricane season includes planning for the "what-ifs"

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A large crowd GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

For Bluffton resident Jane Sherrer, the reality is that during and after a hurricane there will be a scarcity of emergency services and a lack of other resources.

"When this happens in this area - it's down, it's shut. I don't care what it is.

There's nobody there to help you," she said.

Sherrer shared her experience during Hurricane Florence with residents attending the Bluffton Police Department's pre-season hurricane preparedness session May 16.

When the Sherrers went to bed at about 11 p.m. Sept. 12, 2018, Jane said her husband, James, was fine. The crisis began at midnight.

"When I called the EMS, I was glad I could get through. They were kind and sympathetic, asking me what was happening, but they were very honest and said if we can get there, we will, but we can't tell you how long it will be," Sherrer said.

"I was one of the most fortunate ones," she said. "They got there very quickly. But he passed away within a very short distance - not even a mile from the house. There was nobody at that hospital."

Capt. Scott Chandler, head of Bluffton Police Department's Emergency Management, emphasized the scarcity of emergency services and other resources once a hurricane is predicted to hit Beaufort County.

"The emergency room is kind of a skeleton crew. Probably one surgeon, a couple of nurses, maybe one X-ray tech. This is for full-on 'I have to go to the hospital right this minute or I'm going to die,'" said Chandler. "Keep in mind that the hospitals are going to be gone. If you trip fall and break your leg, it might be a little bit before we get to you. There are life-threatening things that can happen. And during a hurricane, no one in emergency service is going out."

Losing her husband at the height of the storm was bad enough, Sherrer said, but initiating the trail of paperwork that follows a death was "a nightmare."

"All the county offices were closed. There was no coroner. They couldn't declare him dead," Sherrer said. "Nothing could be done. Nobody would even answer the phone."

While Sherrer's story was unpredictable and tragic, it points out that no matter the level of preparation or the category of storm, there is nothing routine about what happens during hurricanes.

Be prepared early

In both the BPD's session and the one conducted in Sun City Hilton Head, officials said the same things:

• Plan before the hurricane season and stock up early.

• People and pets: Know who and what you are taking with you.

• Prescriptions for people and pets, enough for two weeks or more; eyeglass-contacts prescriptions, body braces, mobility items, etc.

• Papers: Wills, deeds, insurance, marriage certificates, etc.

• Personal needs: Non-perishable food, clothing, blankets, water.

• Pets: Food, cages, leashes, litter boxes, litter, comfort items.

• Priceless items: Wedding pictures, memorabilia, military treasures, photo albums, valuables.

• Check your household gas, water and electricity - turn everything off and be careful upon your return, especially about the gas.

• Communications plans: Have a way to get in touch with immediate family members. Also, set up a procedure to get in touch with family members out of the area to let them know your plans and that you are safe.

• Do not count on cellular communications and GPS. If towers go down or you run out of battery power, you will need the same information, including maps, all phone contacts and other important details.

• Keep automobile gas tanks full. Carry enough cash to fill up along your planned evacuation routes. Some gas stations might lose power and be unable to pump gas or might run out. Gas trucks might not be able to reach the stations quickly.

• Plan ahead so that you have a place to stay along your desired travel route. We are not the only ones evacuating (thousands come from Florida, for instance) and many people may have the same hotels in mind.

• Leaving town: If you leave before the evacuation starts, you are not restricted. You may travel whatever route you choose. Once the evacuation order is issued by the governor, all routes are pre-determined and you will have no choices.

As residents exit their communities, they will be further directed by either Beaufort County Sheriff officers or the state highway patrol. Officials urge residents to become familiar with the evacuation routes and which directions they will go.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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