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York Co. emergency team ready for hurricane season

As hurricane season opens this week, York County emergency planners are settled in their new home -- and ready to use the high-tech tools they brought with them.

The county's new emergency operations center -- housed in a Cold War-era former bank building in downtown Rock Hill -- features a command center with wall-mounted, flat-screen TVs, a projection monitor and desks for 50 people.

Video conferencing lets officials talk with their counterparts in other cities and counties. The 911 dispatch center operates on the first floor.

"We've got more space to work," said Leslie Brakefield, a trainer and planner. "It was very hard before -- you could only get 20 or so people and then we just piled everybody in. It's definitely going to be a lot easier."

The old center was housed on a basement floor at Rock Hill City Hall.

Hurricane preparedness got little attention in York County until Hurricane Hugo roared through in 1989.

But the Category 4 storm brought to the county 90-plus mph winds, mowing down trees and knocking out power for just about everyone.

Back then, South Carolina's emergency plan covered only seven counties, six of which bordered the Atlantic Coast.

Until Hugo, no one thought it was necessary to include the whole state. Today, though, county emergency management director Cotton Howell has more than 18 inches of notebooks on his bookshelves for hurricanes and other emergencies.

All lanes on Interstate 26 would flow inland, sending traffic toward Columbia and then up Interstate 77, right into York County. Local emergency planners would handle the influx of evacuees.

"Nobody would have believed that a hurricane would have come through York County with the ferocity it did," said trainer and planner Larry McConnell. "There's been a huge emphasis put on being prepared."

1st tropical storm of season forms off Guatemala

Tropical Storm Agatha, the first of the season, formed in the East Pacific on Saturday, generating heavy rains in Guatemala and killing four people when a dislodged boulder crushed their house, authorities said.

The storm was expected to dump from 10 to 20 inches of rain and as much as 30 inches in isolated areas of Guatemala, threatening dangerous floods and mudslides.

The Associated Press

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