Editor’s note: In a press conference Tuesday morning, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the mandatory evacuation for Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties. To read more, click here.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered a mandatory evacuation beginning at noon Tuesday for the state’s entire 187-mile coastline in anticipation of Hurricane Florence.
The evacuation includes the state’s eight coastal counties, including Beaufort, Jasper, Charleston, Berkeley, Horry, Georgetown, Colleton and Dorchester.
McMaster said “about a million people” are expected to leave the coast due to the far-reaching evacuation order.
“Now we know this evacuation order I’m issuing is going to be inconvenient ... ,” he said. “(B)ut we’re willing to suffer some inconvenience,” adding that the disruption was worth the effort to save lives.
Lane reversals on two major highways are expected to take effect at noon Tuesday on I-26 and U.S. 501.
And McMaster said U.S. 278 and U.S. 21 will be “ready for reversal” at noon Tuesday, but a final decision on whether to reverse the two highways may come later.
“(R)esidents and guests of Beaufort County will be allowed to travel within county borders, until there is a need for lane reversals on U.S. 278 and U.S. 21,” a Monday evening message from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said. “At that time all residents must evacuate Beaufort County.”
The governor suspended tolls on the Cross Island Parkway on Hilton Head Island.
The evacuation order comes just two days after the governor declared a state of emergency ahead of Florence when it was still a tropical storm.
The state of emergency declaration allows the government and emergency services to activate authorities and resources that are unavailable in nonemergencies, such as moving assets and special response teams throughout the state.
Still, McMaster seemed to leave the door open to modify his evacuation plan.
“If the hurricane miraculously, overnight, decides to go somewhere else, we can take corrective action,” he said, saying it was easier to “stand down” state resources than have them “stand up” at a moment’s notice.
The hurricane has since strengthened to a Category 4 storm with sustained winds at 135 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“I’d like to point out that we’re expecting more wind than we had with (Hurricane) Hugo (in 1989), and more wind than we had with (Hurricane) Matthew (in 2016),” McMaster said.
“We’re liable to have a whole lot of flooding, particularly in the Pee Dee area,” he continued, explaining the combined effect of storm surge, rain and wind could have on already water-saturated land in northeastern South Carolina. “We’re in for a real episode here.”
As of Monday evening, Beaufort County was increasingly farther outside Hurricane Florence’s forecasted track — known as the “cone of uncertainty,” according to the National Hurricane Center. Still, experts say that the storm’s impact, including destructive winds and deadly storm surges, will extend far from the cone.
“(Florence) is particularly big, particularly strong and without getting into all of the details ... there’s nothing stopping it,” McMaster said. “And when it hits the Gulf Stream in warmer water, it’s going to (intensify) even more ... .”
“This is a big, big hurricane.”
The National Weather Service’s John Quagliarielloro said hurricane-force winds could extend 50 miles from the center of the storm as it makes landfall, and tropical-force winds could extend 100 miles out.
Officials with the S.C. National Guard said there were already 1,600 soldiers on duty, a number which should jump to more than 3,000 by Wednesday.
Beaufort County schools will be closed Tuesday and remain closed for the rest of the week. A decision will be made over the weekend on whether school will resume on Monday, Sept. 17, according to district spokesperson Jim Foster.
Officials in North Carolina also issued a state of emergency, as well as mandatory evacuation orders for certain islands.
Evacuations for Hatteras and Okracoke islands, which are on the southern end of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, began at noon Monday. The northern part of the Outer Banks, including Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, will begin evacuations Tuesday morning, Dare County Emergency Management said.
Just over the state line in Georgia, Chatham County officials are continuing to monitor the storm but say the forecast has improved for their area.
“As of right now ... we don’t anticipate any significant ... issues from Hurricane Florence,” Chatham County Emergency Management Agency Director Dennis Jones said during a Monday afternoon news conference in Savannah, about 25 miles south of Bluffton.
Evacuation routes for Beaufort County can be found here.