RI officials urge disaster preparedness as hurricane season heats up

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It’s unlikely Hurricane Irma will make its way to Rhode Island, but the state’s top emergency official said a storm of that magnitude would trigger an order for mandatory evacuations of more than half of the Ocean State’s communities.

R.I. Emergency Management Agency Director Peter Gaynor said they have practiced and prepared for mandatory evacuations “should it be necessary.”

“We’ve got detailed information about how to evacuate every single coastal community,” Gaynor said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “[That’s] 21 coastal communities from the water line all the way inland.”

Unlike Florida, which is preparing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma – a category 4 hurricane as of Friday afternoon – Gaynor said Rhode Island has elevated areas for residents to seek higher ground.

“We ask people to go miles, not hundreds of miles or tens of miles, but just a couple of miles inland,” Gaynor said. “Find a hotel find a friend find a family and seek shelter.”

As part of “Disaster Preparedness Month,” Gaynor joined U.S. Senator Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island met with Gaynor and staff at RIEMA’s headquarters in an effort to spur people to plan ahead for the unknown.

“Now is a good time to take stock of your emergency preparedness and talk with family members and loved ones about what to do in case this storm turns from a threat to a reality, or in case significant rainfall turns into flooding,” Reed said in a statement.

As part of a $15 billion emergency funding bill for victims of Hurricane Harvey, Reed said Congress also extended the National Flood Insurance Program until December 8. The aid package was part of an agreement President Trump made with congressional Democrats to extend the county’s debt limit for three more months, avoiding a potential government shutdown, for now.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook