Sanford: Gas prices could hinder evacuation

BEAUFORT-- High gas prices have made it difficult for South Carolina residents to keep their cars fully gassed and could cause a run on the state's gas stations in the days before a hurricane, said Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sanford and other state and local emergency management officials held a press conference at the Beaufort County Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday morning to urge the public to prepare for the possibility of a major storm hitting the state this hurricane season. Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

With gasoline prices near $4 a gallon and many residents struggling to keep their tanks full, Sanford said lines at area gas stations could be longer than usual before an evacuation.

"One of the dangers that everyone needs to be aware of is that if we get five days out from a storm, there's a lot of people operating on a quarter tank as opposed to a full tank," he said. "That means that there is a danger, obviously, of a run on gas stations because people are waiting until the last minute."

The state's emergency management plan includes measures to keep the state's gas stations fueled during an evacuation and after the storm has passed.

"We've talked to the commercial petroleum venders and worked out a plan where they will ensure that certain stations are topped off and have full tanks, and that they're capable of replenishing those stations when the evacuation occurs," said Ron Osborne, state director of emergency management.

Osborne said the locations of those stations would be released to the public through local media in the event of an evacuation.

Certain gas stations also would be designated to refuel first responders -- such as firefighters, law enforcement officials, paramedics and utility workers, in the aftermath of the storm -- he said.

During the press conference, an added emphasis was placed on the importance of residents using Beaufort County's evacuation routes, U.S. 21 for Beaufort and U.S. 278 for Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, to get out of town.

"The routes that we worked so hard on with public safety, William Winn (director of Beaufort County Emergency Management) and state emergency management are designated for certain areas," said Dick Jenkins, safety and system engineer for the S.C. Department of Transportation. "Please use and observe those routes. We want to make this evacuation, when it comes, as orderly as we can."

Officials warned that people trying to head east into Georgia likely would be met with traffic congestion and delays.

Beaufort was one of three stops the governor made Wednesday to urge residents to prepare for a hurricane. Sanford also made appearances in Conway and North Charleston.