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August 15, 2016

South Jersey: One of the most difficult places in U.S. to evacuate for hurricane

Hurricanes Sandy and Irene blasted the Jersey Shore in 2012 and 2011 — devastating communities, claiming lives, and resulting in a large rebuilding project that traumatized many residents all over again.

But even Sandy and Irene haven’t shown what the worst could be for South Jersey — the fourth most problematic U.S. location to evacuate ahead of a hurricane, according to a 2012 study by Donald Lewis at the Atkins engineering consulting firm.

It makes sense. If you’ve ever made the trek down to the shore, you know there are few roads in and few roads out, and every weekend it’s more like a brake-light spectacle than a highway with its bumper-to-bumper traffic. The tourist-destination peninsula is surrounded by water, leaving a long evacuation process that has to run north, before west, in the event of a hurricane.

Fortunately, no hurricane has hit the Jersey Shore with minimal notice during the peak summer population from July 4th to Labor Day.

But if a future storm's sudden movement leaves residents and visitors with hours of notice instead of days, officials would have to resort to a strategy known as “contraflow” — an evacuation plan that shuts down in-bound highways and opens both sides up as outbound routes – according to the Atlantic City Press.

Reserved for only the most desperate of situations, the massive effort requires a roadblocks throughout South Jersey to ensure other drivers don’t drive head-on at motorists evacuating escaping the destructive path of a hurricane.

It would take 14 to 16 hours to implement contraflow and get traffic flowing smoothly in one direction, Vince Jones, Atlantic County emergency management director told the Press.

The strategy could be used on parts, or all, of Routes 47, 347, 72, the Garden State Parkway, and Atlantic City Expressway, said Steve Schapiro, communications director for NJDOT, the Press reported.

Irene and Sandy resulted in the first mandatory evacuations for South Jersey since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, but accurate forecasting of the storm's track allowed residents to be evacuated sans contraflow in the case of Irene.

Read the full story in the Atlantic City Press.