Haley pledges to include Grand Strand leaders in hurricane evacuation decision

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) -- Governor Nikki Haley is adding her voice to the call for Carolinians to be ready for hurricane season. Friday she traveled down the South Carolina coast to emphasize changes to evacuation plans this year.

At a stop in Conway she also pledged to work with local leaders when deciding on an evacuation.

"We need them to know what their evacuation route is," Haley said. "They need to have a family plan."

Those are reminders about hurricane preparedness you would expect to hear from Governor Haley, but while visiting Horry County's Emergency Management office, she also wanted to emphasize something new.

"They need to understand we are no longer going to have voluntary evacuations," she said. "We are going to have a mandatory evacuation, and when we say it's time to go, it's time to go."

Also, because the flood zones have been extended to cover more areas, more people need to pay attention.

"More people are affected than have been affected in past years," she explained.

That means if an evacuation is called for it will start sooner than in past years, because it will take longer for everyone to get out of harm's way in time.

"If it comes during a peak period we're talking about 19 hours," Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said.

He made sure to be at the office for Haley's visit because he wanted to talk face to face with her about the changes.

Although the earlier evacuation timeline is a safety measure, it is also a concern for Rhodes and other local leaders because it means an evacuation order could be needed before the exact path of the storm is known. So he wants to be sure Haley does not decide on an evacuation without talking with Grand Strand mayors and emergency managers.

"You're not on the coast. You're not living with it. You're not feeling it. You need to have that input," Rhodes said.

Haley said she understands the call for evacuation is a balancing act, and she re-assured Rhodes Grand Strand leaders would be included in an evacuation decision.

"Safety first, but we also have to understand that we have a high tourist community, and the second you make a call like that you can kill all the revenue," Haley explained. "So I will be working very closely with local officials. This decision will not be made by me alone. It will be made through conference calls with local officials on the ground to really make sure that the time is right."

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