Hurricane

Beaufort County officials admit they didn’t communicate effectively after the storm

Sea Pines, as seen from the air Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, a day after Hurricane Matthew swamped Hilton Head Island. Reentry to barrier islands like Hilton Head, Harbor and Fripp islands was still being restricted on Monday, even as those in other areas of the county were allowed to return to their homes.
Sea Pines, as seen from the air Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, a day after Hurricane Matthew swamped Hilton Head Island. Reentry to barrier islands like Hilton Head, Harbor and Fripp islands was still being restricted on Monday, even as those in other areas of the county were allowed to return to their homes. Steve Riley

Beaufort County emergency officials apologized Monday for not communicating its reentry plans more clearly and quickly on social media, where confusion and rumors became rampant soon after Gov. Nikki Haley lifted the evacuation order for the county.

The Sheriff’s Office announced its plans for checkpoints and shelters in a Facebook post at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. The S.C. Emergency Management Division posted an announcement of Haley’s decision to rescind the evacuation order on both Facebook and Twitter at about 7:30 p.m.

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It was more than an hour and a half before the Sheriff’s Office acknowledged Haley’s decision in a Facebook post of its own. In the interim, many seemed confused — were the messages contradictory? was everyone now allowed to bypass the checkpoints and reenter as they wished?

Neither was the case — Haley’s decision simply left it to local officials to decide how reentry should be handled, but that was lost in the confusion, Sheriff P.J. Tanner acknowledged Monday.

“I apologize that we weren't more prepared to deal with the social-media aspect of this recovery,” Tanner said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

The county intends to make social media a part of its effort to keep the public informed about the recovery. It is photographing all of Beaufort County by air from patrol cars so that residents who haven’t made it home can see their property and decide when to return. Those images will be pushed out on county social media channels when they are available, according to Tanner and Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic.

Also during the Monday news conference:

▪  No firm timetable for allowing access to Hilton Head Island was given. Town manager Steve Riley said managers of those communities are concerned about access, with people parking and walking to their homes and blocking roadways for utility crews and others.

▪  The S.C. Department of Transportation is working on the Harbor River bridge, but it remains unsafe and access-restricted, Beaufort County Emergency Management Division commander Neil Baxley said. The pavement is in good shape but has been undermined, he said, with problems with the road at both ends of the bridge.

▪  Baxley said damage to Hunting Island State Park is significant. “The only way to describe it is incredible,” Baxley said. Harbor and Fripp will be among the areas the county documents with photos and video.

▪  Riley warned of fire hazards posed by devices on auto shutoff, citing a house fire caused when someone's iron turned back on when power was restored.

▪  There have been reports of people impersonating federal emergency officials in neighboring counties, Baxley said. No such reports have been made in Beaufort County, however. If someone tells you they are with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, call 911 and report them, Baxley said.

▪  A statewide burn ban is in effect, and it applies to yard debris. Household trash should go in cans.

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