Officials: Study could increase hurricane evacuation time

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A new hurricane evacuation study in Horry County could dramatically increase the area's evacuation times, according to emergency management officials.

The study, being performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hasn't been fully completed since Hurricane Hugo hit the coast of South Carolina. Partial studies on the area's evacuation plans have been completed since then, but funding woes prevented a full study from being initiated.

Those funding problems have resolved and it has Horry County Emergency Management officials bracing for big changes in the amount of time it takes for a successful hurricane evacuation.

Randy Webster, director of Horry County Emergency Management, says it takes around 22 hours for an evacuation to take place. He predicts when preliminary findings are released, that time will dramatically increase to upwards of 30 hours.

Webster credits a population boom and development impacting the area's landscape as a reason behind the time increase. Researchers won't only be considering beach storm surge in the study, but flooding and surges that could occur from water moving from Winyah Bay through the Intracoastal Waterway.

"The right storm [could bring] a lot of surge out of Winyah Bay and up through the Waccamaw River and Intracoastal Waterway," he said. "There are truly going to be impacts in Forestbrook and Carolina Forest that we haven't seen before."

The new alignment of storm surge and flooding maps, due to an advancement of technology being used, could have people like Trip and Juliann DeForrest heading for higher ground much sooner.

"For me, it would just be me hearing them say, 'It's time to go.' Hear it one time and we're gone," she said.

The threat of new flooding problems, according to Webster, will cause the county to move its evacuation zones further inland. Webster says the shift will not only incorporate new areas into a flood zone, but impact a greater number of people.

But until mother nature decides to put Horry County's evacuation plans to the test, Webster has one important piece of advice in the meantime.

"We really want you to be safe," he said. "When it's time to go - when a mandatory evacuation is given - it's time to go."

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