Although officials can’t say how many residents evacuated Beaufort and Jasper counties for Hurricane Florence, traffic numbers indicate several thousand left before South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s mandatory evacuation order was set to go into effect Tuesday.
McMaster announced a coast-wide evacuation order for the entire state at about 3 p.m. Monday.
The evacuation was set to begin at noon on Tuesday. But shortly after 11 a.m., McMaster lifted the order for Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties — just 20 hours after he had announced it.
Between the time that McMaster announced the order and lifted it, about 8,500 more vehicles than usual traveled westbound on U.S. 278 just before the intersection of I-95, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
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Between 4 p.m. Monday and noon Tuesday, westbound traffic at that location was nearly 70 percent higher than usual.
Yet, if the traffic numbers are an indication of which areas of the counties had more evacuees than others, Hilton Head residents were not the first to flee.
During that same time frame, westbound traffic on the Hilton Head bridge was only about 16 percent higher than unusual.
McMaster’s initial evacuation order, which caused many residents to pack up and leave quickly, has affected businesses, tourism and schools across Beaufort County.
The Beaufort County School District announced Tuesday afternoon that its schools will remain closed through Friday because too many teachers, staff and bus drivers left as soon as the order was announced.
At least 80 percent of district teachers and staff and 90 percent of bus drivers would need to be available for schools to reopen, but not that many are still within the county, according to district spokesperson Jim Foster.