Here are the new evacuation zones for coastal Virginia. See which zone your region is in.

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New evacuation zones announced for coastal Virginia

State officials have a simple message for people in coastal Virginia — "Know Your Zone."

During a news conference at Fort Monroe on June 1, 2017, they announced big changes to the state's evacuation plan, introducing a new, a four-tiered plan to evacuate people during hurricanes and other disasters. The "Know Your Zone" plan covers about 1.25 million people who live in the region most vulnerable to storms, which includes Hampton Roads.

"It's vitally important that residents of coastal Virginia be aware of the new zones and in particular, the zone they live in," Jeff Stern, coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said in a news release. "Right now, before the storm season gets under way, we're urging people to 'Know Your Zone.'"

The zone plan took three years to develop and is based on the most up-to-date engineering data for the region, state officials said. Developers also tapped local emergency managers in Hampton Roads, the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and Eastern Shore to help with its design.

In his remarks at Fort Monroe, Gov. Terry McAuliffe talked about the beautiful view of the water, bustling ship traffic and the area's historic military assets, which are vital to Virginia.

"This new evacuation plan represents a significant step toward ensuring the safety of the commonwealth's residents and visitors," McAuliffe said in the release. "The new data-driven plan will streamline the evacuation process by providing accurate and useful information to citizens based on their street addresses."

With the effects of climate change, "storms are getting more intense," the governor said. "We had to modernize our evacuation plan."

Virginia is prone to flooding, tornadoes and high winds during hurricanes. Hurricane Matthew killed two people and a third died from stormy conditions in October 2016. Thousands were left without power — some for several days. Storm waters flooded coastal areas and moved inland, swamping homes and cars in areas that have traditionally been flood-free. The deadly storm also caused more than $9 million in damage statewide after the storm surge.

According to state officials, the new zones consider several factors such as topography and historic storm surge measurements and combine them with projected effects of storms of different intensity, path, speed, tides and other meteorological factors.

At the "Know Your Zone" website, people can type in their address and learn what zone they live in. During an emergency, state officials will have specific instructions for evacuations according to the zones, designated as A through D, Stern said. Those without access to the internet can contact their local emergency managers or call 211 for their zone designation.

"The lane-reversal plan for I-64 remains a tool in the toolbox we can use if needed," he said. "The evacuation routes have not changed — we've just updated the evacuation plan."

In the event of an extremely dangerous storm of category 4 (winds of 131 to 155 mph) or 5 (155 mph and above), all lanes of I-64 will be opened exclusively for only westbound traffic, according to state emergency plans.

The state added gates to interstate on and off ramps after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, but has never reversed traffic on the interstate during an evacuation. 

Avoiding unnecessary evacuation travel will reduce traffic congestion, promote highway safety and lessen overcrowding at storm shelters, state officials said. The new zones enhance the current evacuation plans and routes already designated in coastal Virginia, they added.

Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck said the new evacuation plans will help keep people safe.

"This area is particularly vulnerable to wind and storm surge," Tuck said. "The new evacuation plans will allow us to make people aware and get them evacuated quickly and safely."

Canty can be reached by phone at 757-247-4832.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
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