Tips for safely evacuating the Lowcountry before a hurricane

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston County alone now has more than 350,000 people. That's 50,000 more people than when Hugo hit, which means it will take days to get out of the Lowcountry.

You've probably noticed these evacuation signs around town, but do you know your route, what's closest and most convenient for your family?

RELATED | In case of evacuation, know your zone

It's still early as we look at the forecast for Matthew, now is the time to prepare. Experts advise knowing your route and making a list.

In 1999, it took drivers an average of nine hours to leave town. Hundreds of tired, hungry, angry people were upset there was no lane reversal.

But today's a different story. Now the lanes will reverse, allowing both lanes to take cars out of town right where I-526 hits Interstate 26.

In fact, the state practices the reversal every year.

"Before Hurricane Floyd, we never practiced this lane reversal," said Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres. "We never had the manpower in place and knew what needed to go where. And now we do, ever since Floyd."

Next time will be different. Next time routes will be manned. There will be food, gas, medical help and they'll be ready for any emergency.

But the problem will be the number of people and the timing.

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"If you never experienced a hurricane, the problem is you're not going to leave until the last second," said Beres. "What we don't want is a mass exodus leaving the Lowcountry, headed to Columbia. That's why when there's a voluntary evacuation, it's time for you to go ahead and go. Don't wait until you're told to go."

And when you do leave, don't just type Columbia into your GPS. Not everyone needs to take I-26 west. Following an alternative route is guaranteed to be faster.

For example, if you are coming from Mount Pleasant, you could take Highway 41 to 402, pass through St. Stephen and then take 521 over to Interstate 95.

If you're coming from James Island, you could head to Highway 17 South, take it to Highway 64, cut through Walterboro and then on to I-95.

And to make things even easier, have a list a list of necessary items so you can quickly get ready and evacuate. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, a fully charged cell phone, food & water in the car, diapers, baby formula, medicine and cash.

Well before a storm even forms in the Atlantic, you can start to prepare by finding your route, making your packing list, and knowing where you would head.

"Know right now how you're going to leave if a hurricane were going to hit, let's say tomorrow," said Beres. "Know where you're going to go, not deciding on the way to Columbia or Greenville where you're going to go."

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