Deadly Hanna takes aim at U.S. coast

Tropical Storm Hanna could mean flooding, erosion to coastal communities, disaster plans set in motion

BY VICKI DESORMIER | ATLANTA | September 3, 2008

"This is a dangerous time. It is a very dangerous time for Florida."

—Rev. Marcus Hepburn, Florida VOAD

They're holding their breath. They're keeping a close eye on the hurricane tracking maps. And, from Florida to Maine and perhaps beyond they know Tropical Storm Hanna, when she finally makes landfall, could be dangerous.

Thursday night the National Hurricane Center said Hanna could still become a hurricane before it hits the Carolina coast Friday night or Saturday. The storm had sustained winds of 65 MPH and tropical storm force winds extended out more than 300 miles.

A coastal storm surge of two to four feet and "large and dangerous battering waves" can be expected along the coast, forecasters warned. Very heavy rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic states this weekend could produce flooding.

Rainfall totals of one to three inches could fall in already waterlogged Florida as a result of the storm.

The Rev. Marcus Hepburn, chair of the Florida VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) said Florida volunteers are still scrambling to clean up flood damage from Tropical Storm Fay. Floodwaters from that storm are still draining into the St. Johns River in Brevard County to the south and east of central Florida. The floodwaters are moving upstream toward Jacksonville, bringing high water and severe property damage to homes in Volusia, Seminole, Lake and Marion counties so far.

"There could be more than 10,000 homes damaged by Fay," Hepburn said. "We're getting ready but the resources are still geared up for Fay and I think a lot of people were looking toward responding to Gustav and now that's off the table and we're all watching Hanna now."

Hepburn said the damage from Hanna and Ike, if they hit the state even a glancing blow could be devastating. Heavy wind and rain will exacerbate the flooding that has not been controlled and cleaned up. He said the water already on the ground has little place to go except into the already swollen rivers and lakes. More rain will intensify the flooding. Wind damage from even a tropical storm would hamper the cleanup efforts already underway.

The state Emergency Operations Center has not been fully activated for Hanna, nor fully deactivated from Fay. That group is keeping a close eye on the tropical situation. Under several Emergency Management Assistance Compacts, some professional emergency managers were sent to Louisiana to help with Gustav relief. They might be coming home earlier than expected.

"This is a dangerous time," Hepburn said. "It is a very dangerous time for Florida."

The Georgia VOAD activated its volunteer and donation management team for the first time today, They will work with the state Emergency Operation Center to coordinate volunteer organizations to get the things that FEMA and other organizations determine are needed both before and after a storm, if one makes landfall in Georgia.

"We'll start doing our daily conference calls on Thursday morning when we have a better handle on where Hanna is going," Bob Tribble, Director of the Georgia VOAD, said.

That lack of knowing where the storm is expected to go has Chatham County (Savannah) GA Emergency Management Agency director Clayton Scott on edge.

The emergency responders are trying to be as prepared as they can be without going too far, he noted. Even if the storm doesn't hit that area directly, there could be 50 mile per hour winds and possibly tornadoes associated with the bands. The potential for winds of that magnitude stretches across most of the Florida peninsula, the full eastern half of the states of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina before heading out into the Atlantic again. And all of that could change with the next National Hurricane Center update.

"We're trying to procrastinate as long possible because this storm is so squirrely," Scott admitted. He said that as soon as they were to get word that they were in the path of the storm, however, they were prepared for at least partial evacuations of the coastal city. The state EOC has told him that many coastal areas of Georgia would also be potentially evacuated if the storm took the currently-projected path across the Georgia-South Carolina border.

In South Carolina, officials are worried about three major population centers in Hanna's path on the state's 110-mile coast. Hilton Head Island is a popular vacation spot; Charleston has a historic district of antebellum mansions; and Myrtle Beach is lined with hotels and tourist attractions.

"Our biggest challenge is going to be getting people out of harm's way," Joe Farmer of the South Carolina emergency management division, said. "We're not sure if Hanna is really coming here, but we've got to be prepared to evacuate a lot of people as soon as we have a better handle on the path."

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