Virginia plans to give residents up to 10 hours more notice of a mandatory hurricane evacuation, and will target the most high-risk areas for those evacuations, officials said Thursday.
The changes come amid a review of the state’s hurricane preparedness plan. Officials expect to begin hurricane evacuation planning sooner when a storm approaches, and to focus more on evacuating high-risk zones and less on the possibility of reversing lanes on Interstate 64.
Over the next two years, state officials plan to identify hurricane evacuation zones for communities in the Hampton Roads area. Other coastal states already use such zones to limit evacuations to the most at-risk areas and provide greater clarity to residents and tourists. Often, local governments tell people in low-lying areas that they may need to evacuate without specifying exactly what areas they’re talking about.
In Hampton Roads, the biggest threat from a hurricane is flooding caused by storm surge. That means some places far from the ocean but near other bodies of water are among those most at-risk. Even during relatively minor thunderstorms, some roads and neighborhoods in the region routinely flood.
“If we do a better job of notifying people in the areas most at risk, then a mass evacuation of the Hampton roads region may not be necessary. Early notification allows people enough time to get to a safe place, and a safe place does not always necessarily mean that they have to leave the region. Sometimes it’s enough just to get to higher ground,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a news conference announcing the plan at Fort Monroe.
Under the new timeline, the governor would make the first call to local elected officials concerning evacuation plans and activities 72 hours before a storm might hit, up from 48 hours previously. The plan calls for the recommended start of a mandatory evacuation for a Category 3 hurricane at 48 hours, up from 38 hours previously.
To aid with evacuations, the plan calls for providing incentives for gas stations to add generators to their facilities in case they lose power.
Among other things, the revised plan also calls for finding more adequate hurricane shelters in the Hampton Roads region.
Currently, only eight shelters in the region can withstand a Category 2 hurricane. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is currently hiring a shelter coordinator to help with the effort.
The revised plan also calls for selecting one local government in Hampton Roads to develop a pilot project to help residents who might not have access to transportation, those requiring medical care and those with limited incomes to evacuate.
McAuliffe also said future transportation projects should improve the capacity to help with evacuations. McAuliffe said the Bowers Hill area of Chesapeake, where Interstate 664, Route 13, Route 58 and Route 60 merge, is one in need of improvement.
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