Residents in South Carolina’s coastal counties could be under a mandatory evacuation order by Saturday morning, days before Hurricane Irma is expected to reach the state.
Gov. Henry McMaster did order the evacuation of 143 health care facilities in Beaufort, Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, Colleton, Jasper, Georgetown and Horry counties. The order includes hospitals and nursing homes.
Should the governor declare a mandatory evacuation, it would likely be at 10 a.m. on Saturday and lanes on four major roadways will be reversed to accommodate evacuees.
Those roadways are:
Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia.
U.S. 501 in Horry County
U.S. 21 in Beaufort County
U.S. 278 on Hilton Head Island.
S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said the state is seeing a record number of vehicles traveling on Interstate 95, due to evacuating Florida and Georgia residents.
Comfort stations, which include water and additional restrooms, will be added along major routes, but Hall emphasized people need to be prepared for heavy and slow-moving traffic.
“Use your designated evacuation route. This plan is only going to work for us, if it’s dispersed traffic,” Hall said.
For more information on evacuation zones and maps, consult the S.C. Emergency Management Division’s Hurricane Guide. Additional travel information is available by calling 1-855-467-2368.
The mass transportation plan, aimed at moving some 10,000 people with limited transportation means, is still being implemented and details are still forthcoming. Residents who do not have transportation will be able to be bussed from designated areas in the evacuation zones to shelters.
The South Carolina National Guard activated 800 troops and will have 5,000 activated on Tuesday, according to S.C. Adjutant General Bob Livingston. Additional resources from the federal government, military and surrounding states will also be providing assistance.
“This should be a Category 3 (storm) or less, but we will plan for a Category 4, as far as resources,” Livingston said. “Within the state, we are moving resources starting tomorrow to prepare for evacuation of the shoreline.”
The track of Irma can change but currently is forecasted to remain a major hurricane, prior to making landfall somewhere along the Georgia or South Carolina coast late Monday. If Irma comes through the state, it could become a tropical storm, as it moves through the Upstate.
Storm surge from the hurricane will inundate barrier islands and come “well inland” along with damaging winds, National Weather Service meteorologist John Quagliariello said Thursday.
“The good news with this storm is that it’s going to be a fairly quick-moving storm,” Quagliariello said. “While we will have high rainfall amounts in some areas of the state, we could see local amounts over 10 inches of rain in some parts of the state. The storm’s not going to sit in one spot for a long time.”
Unlike Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall in McClellanville last October as a Category 1 hurricane, officials expect Irma to be a Category 3 storm by the time it reaches the state on Monday. This means strong winds will be felt across the state and there will be a high risk for tornadoes.
McMaster ordered dam owners of the 2,370 public and private dams in the state to evaluate and assess current water levels to determine whether levels can be safely lowered to accommodate anticipated rises in water level.