Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said staff are “paying more attention” to alerts from citizens on social media during Hurricane Florence, though he encouraged people on land and at sea to use official emergency communication networks to summon help when at all possible.
“This is a big storm. It’s slowed down. It’s going to be a significant water event, catastrophic flooding, long term protracted flooding in the rivers, I think well in land. I think if we look back ton 2016, Hurricane Matthew had flooding along I-95 in Lumberton, North Carolina,” Schultz told CNN today.
“So, I think what’s really — folks should not be — you know, lose sight of the fact that this is going to be a storm that’s going to be persistent. It’s going to sit,” he warned. “Harvey sat off for about 36 hours, dumped 52 inches of rain. This is potentially going to drop feet of rain off the North Carolina coast, almost the whole length of the coast, pushing into South Carolina. I think it’s going to be a very challenging storm.”
Schultz said Coast Guard aircraft are poised from Atlantic City to Savannah to be dispatched for rescues in the path of the storm’s devastation.
“USS Kearsarge is out at sea with rotary-winged, tilt winged helicopters on board, 53s and 60s. We had a Coast Guard liaison on board,” he added. “We are completely dialed in with our DOD colleagues. We’re here to support FEMA. We’re here to support the state governor. So, we’re well-prepared for this.”
The commandant said he worries most “about just the flooding, to be frank… 75 percent to 80 percent of fatalities in storms, hurricanes, major storms, are due to water inundation.”
“This storm potentially is going to sit in the Carolinas, eastern Carolinas for, you know, 72, 96 hours. It’s going to dump a lot of water. It’s going to be flooding events well inland, and I think folks need to take that very seriously. Listen to their local warnings, their local officials and heed the advice,” he stressed.
Last year’s Hurricane Harvey, in which the USCG rescued 12,000 people, resulted in the Coast Guard making “some changes of how we process social media,” Schultz said.
“We’re not well staffed to monitor social media, but in a surge situation like this, we’re paying more attention to the social media. We encourage people to use the 911 system. We encourage folks that are at sea, and hope we know they’ll be at sea to use a VHF radio,” he said.
“Folks want to tweet and want a response but that’s challenging. Just in the nature of the environment that we work, we work classified missions, we work local, you know, non-classified missions, our command center has some limitations about what internet we can bring in. So, we’ve figured out we’ve got to be more accessible in that space. There’s a manpower component to that. So, I would say refer to the 911 system. That way you get the entire response from the local authorities, up through the federal response, the locals can get the right assets directed. But this will be a local, state, federal response, DOD-supported, and it’s really a team sport.”