McMaster right to lift Hurricane Florence evacuation order for Beaufort County

Here’s why Beaufort didn’t reverse highways when SC Gov called for Hurricane Florence evacuation

At a press conference, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office explained why lane reversals didn't happen for Hurricane Florence.
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At a press conference, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office explained why lane reversals didn't happen for Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Henry McMaster’s was right to lift a mandatory evacuation order for Beaufort County Tuesday morning shortly before it was to take effect.

We are not hurricane forecasters and urged compliance with the order, even as the National Hurricane Center graphics showed Beaufort County apparently out of the zone for possible landfall of powerful Hurricane Florence.

Nevertheless, it was clear that the order was not going to be widely followed.

Too many businesses to count planned to remain open throughout the county. That means all those workers would not be leaving.

Our fear was that the governor’s mandatory evacuation order would be seen as “crying wolf” and that the public would not listen to future orders.

The governor can never be faulted for erring on the side of caution in his original evacuation order.

And now we hope he can be supported for changing the plan as circumstances dictated.

A tinge of politics is always involved in these tough decisions. It is widely believed that the statewide gridlock that took place in the 1999 evacuation for Hurricane Floyd played a role in the re-election loss for former Gov. Jim Hodges. That seems to be the model to avoid, as it should be. It was miserable for the public. And those seeking election, as McMaster is at the moment, will avoid that man-made disaster at all costs.

It has always been wise to leave early as a hurricane approaches the state. For many years, many people have worked hard to drill that into the public conscience.

By doing that on Monday, McMaster said, 1 million people will be out of harm’s way, including those in hospitals and homes for the elderly. He acknowledged the inconvenience, but stressed that he did not want to see a single life lost in South Carolina.

But there always was ambiguity in the order that we did not like.

McMaster announced lane-reversals of U.S. 278 and U.S. 21 in the county, but not really. That would happen only if needed. And the need would be determined locally, based on conditions at the time. And that decision would have a lot to do with public movement about the county.

That’s a mixed signal we’re not used to seeing when an evacuation is ordered. And it was made worse by the fact that Beaufort County appeared, even as the evacuation order was made, to no longer be within the wide area of the hurricane’s potential landfall. Of course, that could always change. And as McMaster said, it’s easier to “stand down” all the state resources it takes to pull off an evaucation than have them “stand up” at a moment’s notice.

For the sake of the credibility of future evacuation orders, we applaud the governor for standing down when he did for Beaufort County.

Follow more of our reporting on Hurricane Florence

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