CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - With Gustav gone from the Gulf Coast, residents elsewhere in the Southeast got their turn Wednesday to decide whether to stay or go ahead of Tropical Storm Hanna, expected to regain hurricane strength by the weekend.
Forecasters tentatively projected Hanna would hit South Carolina early Saturday after glancing along the edges of Florida and Georgia, though it was still too soon to pin down the storm's path or how strong it would get. That uncertainty complicated things Wednesday on what authorities called a critical day for preparations to evacuate hundreds of thousands of residents.
Some coastal residents booked inland hotel rooms while others gave a collective shrug as officials from Georgia through the Carolinas contemplated whether to order the evacuations, make them voluntary or simply tell people to sit tight. In North Carolina, Air Force bases sent planes to Ohio.
In South Carolina, high schools rescheduled football games and the National Guard pushed up weekend exercises by two days in case troops get deployed to help along the coast. Hanna, responsible for at least 25 deaths in Haiti, had states' disaster planners considering turning major highways into one-way evacuation routes for the roughly 1 million people who live between Savannah, Ga., and Wilmington, N.C.
"When the governor decides to issue an evacuation order, we know there is $200 billion of residential real estate along the coast and hundreds of thousands of people at risk," said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. "It's not a decision made lightly. We're not going to wait for the last minute."
Hanna spent the last several days meandering between the southern Bahamas and Haiti. The National Hurricane Center forecast called for the storm to turn northwest, gradually curving more toward the U.S.
"The Hurricane Center readily admits there's low confidence in the track," Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ken Davis said. "We're still preparing with the assumption that the Georgia coast could still see landfall from Hanna within a few days."
Eastern North Carolina could get rain and wind from the storm by early Saturday, said state emergency management spokeswoman Julia Jarema.
"It depends on what happens in the next 12 to 24 hours," Jarema said.
While evacuations were on hold, Hanna already was disrupting other events. The Marines at Parris Island, S.C., moved their weekly recruit graduation up a day to Thursday. High schools across the Carolinas moved football games from Friday. Colleges also were monitoring the storm and in North Carolina, about 80 F-15E Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro and about 10 C-130 transport planes at Pope Air Force Base near Fort Bragg are being sent to Ohio to ride out the storm.
In Columbia, some 100 miles from Charleston, resident Gwendolyn Byous, 63, stocked up on supplies at a Wal-Mart.
"We have been so blessed over the past years that you never know," said Byous, who was buying water, canned meat and fruit cocktail. "I told my children drink the water that's in the faucet. That (bottled water) is only for emergencies."
But many people were unimpressed by forecasts the storm could have 80 mph winds as it neared land. "I'm not evacuating. I don't have any concerns about it. We're going to stay," said Margarita Lynn, 58, as she walked her dogs along a road on Sullivans Island near Charleston.
Houses in beachfront communities showed few signs a hurricane could be less than three days away. Windows were not boarded up and there was little activity under a blue, cloudless sky. Workers on the bridge leading to the island tightened cables that secure its light poles. Lynn said media and people not accustomed to the storms were the ones causing all the ruckus. She said she simply went to the store and bought a new tarp in case the roof of her Mount Pleasant home was damaged.
"We're not hysterical about things like this. We choose to live here," she said. "Every time there is a hurricane, people everywhere get hysterical about it."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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