Hurricane drill tests evacuation plans

With hurricane season underway, state officials want to make sure our highways would be ready if a major storm threatens the coast.

State and local agencies performed a drill Tuesday to test hurricane evacuation plans. The annual exercise took on added urgency in Horry County this year, because the state has set up new evacuation zones, taking in a bigger area of the Grand Strand and more people to evacuate than ever before.

In an actual hurricane evacuation, state officials would change the flow of traffic on U.S. Highways 501 and 544, so that all four lanes on both highways would carry traffic west-bound, away from the coast.

All kinds of agencies, from police departments to Highway Patrol and even the South Carolina National Guard, would be involved in making the lane reversals work.

"It takes so many people to put this into play and that's why this exercise is important, so everybody knows their part in this big process, so should that hurricane come, we're ready to go," said Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins of the Highway Patrol.

During an evacuation, Collins said every road that intersects with the two major highways would have to be manned, to make sure no driver tries to go the wrong way.

A minor accident would be enough to cause major headaches, Collins added.

"Something as simple as a motorist that is broke down in the lane reversal could cause huge delays, so that's something we have to prepare for. Even little things like that, because a car stoppage in a lane reversal for ten minutes could cause major backups for a hurricane."

While evacuation routes have not changed, the new hurricane evacuation zones draw in communities, like Carolina Forest, that never had to evacuate before.

Colleen Kane is a Carolina Forest real estate agent and lives in a subdivision that's just outside the border of a new evacuation zone.

If a hurricane comes, she said she will be ready to leave.

"I know what papers to take and pictures, and know where to go and how to plan where the route is going."

Kane said it's just not worth taking the chance of staying behind, and she thinks most of her neighbors would evacuate, too.

"The people that live there are a little bit older and they respect the fact that Mother Nature's coming and you do what you have to do."

The evacuation drill will continue Wednesday. Traffic won't be impacted, though officials say drivers may notice traffic cones along the side of the road.