Aiken County officials urge residents to prepare now

Chief John Thomas of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety speaks during a news conference on Hurricane Irma as Sheriff Mike Hunt (from left), Aiken Public Safety Director Charles Barranco and other officials look on. 

Aiken County residents have “three, maybe four days” to get ready for the remnants of Hurricane Irma, and they should use them wisely, Sheriff Mike Hunt said Thursday.

 

“We’re not trying to panic the citizens of Aiken County, but this is a bad storm,” Hunt said during a news conference at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

For example, Hunt said, people who live in mobile homes should make arrangements to be staying somewhere else by early Sunday at the latest.

Officials said the Augusta area should start feeling the effects of the hurricane by Monday.

Irma, a Category 5 storm, was expected to make landfall early Sunday in south Florida and move inland into Georgia and South Carolina by Monday afternoon. The storm’s remnants were expected to push as far inland as Tennessee and Kentucky, maybe even Indiana and Ohio.

Some tracks show Aiken County in the direct path, said County Administrator Clay Killian.

“Hopefully, the predictions won’t come true, but right now we have to plan as if they are,” he said.

County government offices will operate normally today and Monday, if conditions allow. The Aiken County Courthouse, however, will not be open Monday. A decision will be made Monday about reopening Tuesday, Killian said.

School officials had not decided whether to close Monday, but were preparing to use schools as emergency shelters if necessary. Information about school closings would be announced through the media and posted to the system’s website, acpsd.net.

Families can prepare by having non-perishable food and water on hand, as well as a seven-day supply of medications.

Residents are being asked to use the 211 hotline for general information, such as shelter availability, and pet-friendly sheltering options. Residents and visitors outside of Aiken County can access 211 by calling (877) 648-9900.

People who become stranded in their cars or are involved in minor traffic accidents should dial *HP (*47), not 911, because those situations will be handled by the South Carolina Highway Patrol. When calling police about situations that aren’t true emergencies, use non-emergency police phone numbers, freeing up 911 dispatchers.

Hunt said shelters would be manned by law enforcement officers and all officer leaves had been cancelled to keep the maximum number available.

The county could open as many as four shelters, and would release information about them later, said Paul Matthews, Aiken County emergency management director.

Hunt said residents shouldn’t be worried about burglars or looters.

“We will not tolerate any bad conduct, from anybody, in this county,” he said. “If you come to this county with intentions of taking advantage of our citizens, you’re not going to like the end result, because you’re going to go to jail.”

Chief John Thomas of North Augusta suggested that a countywide curfew could be instituted, if needed. He also asked that churches that open their doors as shelters let law enforcement know.

Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com

Non-emergency police phone numbers:

Aiken County Sheriff’s Department - (803) 648-6811

North Augusta Department of Public Safety - (803) 279-2121

City of Aiken - (803) 642-7620

School system updates - acpsd.net

Websites to monitor storm:

South Carolina Emergency Management Division - scemd.org

Aiken County Emergency Management - Facebook page

National Weather Service - weather.gov

National Hurricane Center - nhc.noaa.gov

FEMA-ready.gov

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Wed, 11/22/2017 - 18:38

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