2007-06-07 / Front Page

Hurricane evacuation routes

By Sam Bari

One of the emergency evacuation signs located at the corner of Walcott and Hamilton avenues. One of the emergency evacuation signs located at the corner of Walcott and Hamilton avenues. June 1 is the official start of hurricane season in New England.

Town Emergency Management Director and Police Chief Thomas Tighe said that the Town Emergency Evacuation Plan is in place for the hurricane season. The evacuation signs are posted on major thoroughfares and along the evacuation routes. He also said the signs are clearly visible and all signs direct traffic to state Route 138 westbound.

The chief emphasized the importance of following the directions to the mainland by the westbound route even though traffic will be heavier traveling in that direction. "Evacuation routes on the west side of Aquidneck Island will direct traffic to the mainland via state Route 138 westbound, taking them through Jamestown. We will share Route 138 westbound to the mainland with Aquidneck residents," the chief said.

He said traffic on the east side of Aquidneck Island will go east to get to the mainland over the Sakonnet River Bridge. Aquidneck is split, with traffic on the Newport half going west and the other half going east. Any Jamestown traffic traveling eastbound on state Route 138 will be turned around at the traffic control point and told to go west, the chief said.

"Traffic control points are marked on the evacuation map at the Jamestown end of the Pell (Newport) toll bridge and at the entrance to state Route 138 at North Main Road. Follow the directions given by the personnel manning the traffic control points and you can't go wrong," Chief Tighe said.

The chief works with State Floodplain Program Manager Pam Pogue of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency to coordinate the execution of all evacuations. "Chief Tighe calls me after the governor recommends evacuation and tells me if he needs additional personnel, like the National Guard, to help control traffic," Pogue said.

"The governor must make the decision to evacuate," Tighe explained. If a category two or higher storm is imminent, the governor will recommend evacuation. At this point emergency personnel will go around the island in the coastal "Evacuation A," (see map, on website) areas and encourage people to leave. If the storm is a category four or five, we will then evacuate the inland "B," areas, he added.

Pogue said that traffic control points are set up to maintain order and direct or reroute traffic at places that could be problematic with situations like bottlenecks. They can also direct evacuees to the nearest shelter if conditions warrant, she said. "The important thing is to start early and give everyone plenty of time so the evacuation is complete and people are in a safe place when a storm makes landfall," Pogue said.

"Our responsibility is to evacuate and secure the island in case of a disaster like a hurricane," Chief Tighe said. "Once people are off the island, state personnel on the mainland will take over and direct them to shelters. They will probably be sent to facilities set up at the University of Rhode Island and I believe in Cranston, or they will be sent further inland to safer areas," the chief added.

After a hurricane passes, emergency personnel will inspect the island, clear debris, repair downed power lines, and anything else that could put people in harms way before allowing residents to return to their homes, Chief Tighe explained.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 2007 Atlantic hurricane season outlook indicates a very high, or 75-percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season, a 20-percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 5-percent chance of a below-normal season. This outlook is produced by scientists at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC), National Hurricane Center (NHC), Hurricane Research Division (HRD), and Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC). For more information, visit http://www.noaa.gov on the internet.

The outlook calls for a very high likelihood of an above-normal hurricane season, with 13-17 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes, and 3-5 major hurricanes. This prediction signifies an expected sharp increase in activity from the near normal season observed in 2006.

The prediction for an abovenormal 2007 hurricane season reflects the expected combination of two main climate factors:

+ The continuation of conditions that have been conducive to above normal Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995.

+ The strong likelihood of either ENSO-neutral or La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, according to the report on the NOAA website.

A complete map of the Jamestown evacuation route can be found online at the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency website at www.riema.ri.gov/hazards/ hurricaneevac.php.

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