As Hurricane Irma made its way north this past week, many Beaufort County residents wrestled with questions about evacuating ahead of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s evacuation order Friday night for the county’s barrier islands.
One of the main points of confusion is the difference between a mandatory and voluntary evacuation.
Last year, Nikki Haley was hesitant to use the term “mandatory evacuation” because the government can’t force people to leave their homes. This year, the Beaufort and Jasper county sheriff’s offices, as well as media across the state, have all used the term.
When officials use the term “voluntary evacuation,” it means that the governor has not yet issued an official evacuation order. But still, local and state authorities are urging residents to begin leaving ahead of time in order to decrease traffic and panic when an official evacuation order is issued.
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Along the same lines, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control warns: “If you wait for an evacuation order to be issued before beginning your preparation, it may be too late.”
When the term “mandatory evacuation” is used it means that the governor has issued an evacuation order. The DHEC website states that: “Because of the destructive power of a hurricane, you should never ignore an evacuation order. Once an evacuation is ordered, you should leave as soon as possible.”
Still, it does not mean that local or state officials can force you to leave.
During an evacuation order, though, emergency services will be greatly delayed. Though residents who remain during a storm can still call 911, emergency personnel will only be able to respond depending on conditions and demand. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Division urges anyone with health issues to evacuate ahead of storm.
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