"I continue to ask the citizens of South Carolina to pray for each other and to continue to take care of your neighbors and make sure that we're watching out for everyone," Governor Nikki Haley said in a press conference with her team at South Carolina's Emergency Management Division (EMD). She and Team South Carolina provided updates regarding Hurricane Matthew to reporters at 6 p.m. Wednesday evening.
To begin, Haley asked a representative of the National Weather Service to provide any new information regarding the storm and its trajectory.
The storm is currently a category three hurricane, with winds of up to 120 miles per hour. It is moving northwest at about 12 miles an hour across the Southern Bahamas. It is expected that the storm will eventually become a category four hurricane as it passes along the east coast of Florida, Thursday night into Friday. Some weakening should occur as it passes just off the Georgia coast on Friday night. From that point forward, it is uncertain exactly what the storm will do. The representative from the National Weather Service says that the most recent forecast anticipates that the storm will pass just off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday into Saturday night and then move offshore. It is not certain how long the storm system will remain on South Carolina land before turning back off the coast. Some models show the storm hugging the S.C. coast, while others show it shifting back to sea.
The representative urged viewers watching the hurricane's movement to focus more on the "cone of uncertainty" as opposed to the storm track itself. The storm track can and most likely will shift to the west or closer to the coast and could still bring "pretty significant damage to South Carolina," the representative said. If it does track off-shore, the hurricane could still have impact on the coast in the form of tropical storm or hurricane-like conditions. Winds and storm surges could be a factor. There is the possibility of five to eight feet inundation, or water above the ground, as the storm passes, an estimate that may increase. Forecasters are predicting at least 5-10 inches of rain, with more rainfall in some areas, and even flash flooding. Preparation will remain key in protecting against all of these potential effects.
Governor Haley stated that evacuation for Horry and Georgetown will most likely begin at noon tomorrow. This time will be confirmed tomorrow morning.
Thirty-two shelters are now open across the state with four special needs facilities available.
Team South Carolina continues to work with the Attorney General's office regarding price gouging, but there have been no reports across the state at this time. The average price of gas per gallon is currently $2.29. If you suspect price gouging is occuring, contact S.C. EMD. Fuel supplies are stable, and the state has waved through petroleum trucks so that all of the gas stations have supplies.
All coastal parks have now been closed.
FEMA representatives arrived in the state today, and so far the only federal aid requested has been water rescue, in case of emergencies.
Haley informed reporters that hotels are very full across the state. There may be a few vacancies in Anderson and Greenville, with definite openings in Asheville and Charlotte. Haley suggested going online to find availability, and if travelers wish, they may put their names on waitlists for hotels across the Midlands. No price gouging appears to be happening at hotels at this time either. Some hotel rooms may remain booked due to the Saturday University of South Carolina football game, which was originally set to take place in Columbia, S.C. No decisions have been made regarding the game and its location, but should the game be moved, some space in hotels may open in the Capital City. Governor Haley stated that no state law enforcement will be available to monitor the game, should it remain in Columbia.
The Governor assured that traffic is moving, with reversal traffic time down 20 percent. Interstate 26 to Charleston was reversed around 3 p.m. today. Haley credited evacuation success to the combined efforts of Director Smith, Secretary Hal,l and cooperation of law enforcement and the National Guard. She also praised the ease with which the large-scale lane reversal was executed. Travel time from Charleston to Columbia is averaging an hour and thirty-eight minutes. Traffic to the Upstate seems to be mostly unaffected. Over 250,000 S.C. residents have already evacuated, with another 200,000 expected from the Horry and Georgetown county evacuations tomorrow. Returns to evacuated areas will depend upon damage and recovery in those areas.
Midlands' residents are advised to stay off the roads as evacuees come into Columbia.
If you enter a reversed lane, be sure your gas tank is filled as there are no exits, and you will have to travel all the way to Columbia. Travelers were specifically asked not to cross any barricades on I-26 for the safety of law enforcement and safety officials and yourself.
Director Smith spoke as to how the lane reversal was planned and implemented to create a safe and timely process. Viewing the reversal from the air, Director Smith said the process is looking and moving the way it should.
Secretary Hall of the Department of Transportation (SCDOT) credited the lane reversal's success to many years of planning, practice exercises and preparation. She praised those involved for their hard work and dedication, which brought the easy transition. Travel times are approaching 60 miles per hour. Hall said that reversal will be in place day and night until Friday morning, at which time it will be reevaluated. Go to SCDOT website or call 1-855-GO-SCDOT to find alternative routes while the interstate remains reversed.
No other closures or detours have been planned at this time. Any local road closures would be determined by local communities and local law enforcement as the storm grows closer, according to a General from the National Guard.
"Anyone that is trying to wait this out, we ask that you take caution and heed what everyone else is doing." Haley advised. "We have been very appreciative of the way South Carolinians have responded to this evacuation. We saw them start early; they've been very patient. Everything seems to be going smoothly, but we will continue to watch this until the evacuation is done."
Call the Team South Carolina tip line at 1-866-246-0133 if you do not have access to the Internet and need assistance.