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Bracing for unexpected EEMA's top responsibility
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SPRINGFIELD — A reminder of the importance of the Effingham Emergency Management Agency (EEMA) twisted through the area recently.

On April 15, an EF-4 tornado ripped through a 13-mile stretch of Bryan County. The storm, nearly three-fourths of a mile in width, killed an Ellabell woman and injured 12 other people.

EF-4 tornadoes have a wind speed ranging from 166-200 mph.

“Even talking with Ron Morales of the National Weather Service in Charleston (S.C.), he said it was like something that would hit in the Midwest,” EEMA Director Clint Hodges said. “It wasn’t something that Coastal Georgia sees.”

Hodges, also the chief of Effingham County Fire & Rescue, said the twister was a reminder that first responders must be prepared for the unexpected.

“You never want to say it’s an eye-opener because anything is always possibility but it really hits close to home when you the destruction like that was,” he said.

 EEMA is a combination of local, state and federal government agencies working together in partnership with local volunteers and businesses to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from all hazards that affect a jurisdiction. Since 2018, it has dealt with multiple episodes of dangerous weather, a gas leak at a school, plane crashes and more.

Currently, hurricanes are at the forefront of EEMA concerns. The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

“We are in a continual state of preparation for that,” Hodges said. “We’re really starting to hunker down and start paying closer attention to the tropics.”

Hodges offered some hurricane preparation tips for Effingham County residents.

“Make sure you have a personal plan,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing we can encourage. You don’t need to be making your decision on what you are going to do a day out from leaving.

“If you have a general idea — if there is somebody you can go stay with or somewhere you want to go stay — it eases the stress on your mind and you can make the most effective decisions for your family.”

Hodges expressed great relief that the area wasn’t impacted by a hurricane or tropical storm last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because the possibility of hurricane shelters might have been filled with infected people.

“That would have been really hairy,” he said. “I realize COVID is still out there. COVID’s not going anywhere but, with that being said, I think we are in a position where maybe it is better managed and maybe a little more understood so those evacuation locations are back in play this year.”

Hodges said Effingham County is far enough inland that it isn’t affected by storm surge — the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm over and above the predicted astronomical tide.

“Now water backing up and not having any places to get out, that could be an issue,” he said. 

Revisiting the pandemic, Hodges said the 2021 rise of the Delta variant taxed Effingham County’s emergency services considerably.

“There was many a night — and even our day staff was coming in to pick up calls — because everybody was out,” he said. “The Omicron wave affected a lot more people but it was a lot less severe.”