CHARLESTON — Along the coastal areas of South Carolina, residents look toward the start of hurricane season with dread and fascination.
People old enough to remember talk about the big storms that have blown through the state, like Hurricane Hugo and all the damage it caused, or Hurricane Floyd and the total traffic mess created by the evacuation.
Those who rode out Hugo in 1989 said they would never stay again. Then Floyd came along 10 years later and people who sat in traffic for 20 hours or more said next time, they were not leaving.
Officials involved with disaster preparedness urge everyone to follow safety guidelines. Anyone living in a mobile home should ALWAYS leave. Residents riding out smaller storms should be well prepared.
Cathy Haynes, director of Charleston County’s Emergency Preparedness Division, said everyone should have an emergency plan and emergency supplies prior to a storm.
To help families and parishes do this, the Diocese of Charleston created its own Disaster Response Plan that is especially relevant to the Coastal, Lowcountry and Pee Dee deaneries during hurricane season.
It has a ton of useful information, including what to pack in a disaster kit, what hotels accept pets, and telephone numbers for evacuation routes. Visit www.catholic-doc.org, then click Diocesan Departments and Catholic Charities.
If you do not have access to the Internet at home or a library, ask your church to print a copy of the document, or at least the relevant pages.
Hurricane season officially began June 1 and runs until November 30. As of July 15, no tropical storms had formed in the Atlantic Ocean. Federal forecasters have predicted a near-normal or below-normal season, with the possibility for 13 to 18 named storms, including six to 10 hurricanes.
Last year brought 16 named storms. Eight of those were hurricanes and five were major hurricanes.
Deacon Ed Peitler, director of the diocesan office of social ministries, said it is imperative for every parish to have a disaster coordinator.
“It’s really up to each pastor to identify that person who is going to be the point person for what to do in a disaster,” he said.
The duties of a coordinator include identifying all homebound and infirm parishioners who need help with evacuation, and making arrangements for the safekeeping of the sacred vessel, religious emblems and important documents, Deacon Peitler said.
Msgr. Steven L. Brovey, pastor of Prince of Peace in Taylors, said there are no specific guidelines to protect the host. It is each priest’s responsibility to keep the Eucharist safe, he said.
Most parishes have assigned their disaster coordinator by now and have scheduled meetings to go over all the procedures, said Helen O’Leary, regional coordinator for the Coastal Deanery.
“It’s all unique to each parish,” O’Leary said. “That’s why we encourage them to have someone in charge so they can all be on the same sheet of music.”
One thing Deacon Peitler and O’Leary would both like to see is parish pairing. That way, churches in the Midlands or Upstate could serve as sister parishes to those along the coast.
Deacon Peitler said these churches could provide shelter to evacuees, emergency supplies, and volunteers to help make repairs.
As hurricane season heads into the busy months, Deacon Peitler encourages everyone to look over the disaster plan and make sure they are ready.
In a memo on disaster preparedness, Haynes advises residents to leave early to avoid traffic. Blue hurricane evacuation route signs are posted along roadways and residents can find directions from their specific areas at local government offices.
For more information visit www.nhc.noaa.gov.