As Hurricane Irene grows stronger, those in the CSRA and along the coast anxiously await its landfall. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 23, 2011)
News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011
EVANS, Ga. -- Hurricane Irene is strengthening but starting to move north and up the eastern coast. It is a hurricane that has a lot of people on their toes.
The strong storm also has many people thinking back to Hurricane Hugo. Next month marks the 22-year anniversary of the storm that ravaged parts of South Carolina and killed 13 people.
Pam Tucker has been in emergency management for more than 33 years. She remembers watching Hurricane Hugo move toward the coast in 1989.
"Hugo was a monster and we knew wherever it hit it was going to be bad; we knew that there was going to be catastrophic damage," said Pam Tucker, the EMA director for Columbia County.
Charleston was in the eye of the storm and took a direct hit. The category 4 hurricane caused more than $6 billion worth of damage.
The greater Augusta area immediately jumped in to help.
"Wow, look at what happened and this could have happened there," Tucker said. "Everybody the next day chipped in with donations, with manpower and chainsaws."
Tucker says in the last 22 years, so much has changed about how crews prepare for a hurricane.
"The accuracy of the forecasts just were not as good as they are now and when you have accurate forecasts, than you can plan what to do," Tucker said.
This week News 12 Meteorologist Tim Strong has been tracking Hurricane Irene.
"Latest track has Irene still on a focal point for the Carolinas -- anywhere from around Myrtle Beach up to Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina," said Meteorologist Tim Strong.
Coastal cities are bracing for the worst, but hoping for the best as the predictions show the path slowly beginning to curve away.
"It's starting to take more of a east/northeast track as it gets closer to the weekend," Strong said. "Significant damage is a possibility -- again the main threat would be storm surge along the coast and again, that's like the No. 1 killer."
Irene may be the first hurricane scare of the season, but after hurricanes like Hugo, it never hurts to be ready.
"I've never heard anybody talk about a hurricane as much as I have about this one and I think that that's good," Tucker said.
Right now, Irene is a category 2, but expected to grow to at least a category 3. It's expected to make landfall sometime this weekend.
And whether it's this storm or the next one, Columbia County is ready to jump in and help. They have 23 certified shelters and can house more than 7,000 people.