Hurricane Matthew’s projected path has moved closer to the Atlantic shore, heightening concerns South Carolina’s southern coastal communities are in for a devastating punch, Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday evening.
High winds could cause “extensive tree damage” and knock out electricity for an extended period. Eight to 10 inches of rain could cause flash floods. And the battering force of Hurricane Matthew’s storm surge could exceed Hurricane Hugo, according to Haley, who pleaded with those remaining along the coast to evacuate.
“It is getting worse, and we’re seeing that it’s getting worse,” Haley said “... There is no excuse to risk your life. There’s no excuse to risk the lives of your family members.”
President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in South Carolina. That means federal aid can help state and local responders. The order also authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to coordinate disaster relief.
About 500,000 people live in areas under evacuation order. As of 3 p.m., about 280,000 of them had departed, up from about 175,000 early Thursday, Haley said.
Lane reversals on Interstate 26 have helped evacuees from the Lowcountry get inland quickly, but Haley said those who have not yet departed won’t have much longer to take advantage. The S.C. Department of Transportation announced it will begin removing the lane reversals Friday morning.
Sixty-four storm shelters are now open statewide, up from 38 when the day began, Haley said.
Haley said Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s decision to evacuate should be a signal to others that it is time for them to leave, as well. Those who don’t could be exposed to deadly weather.
Charleston and coastal areas south of the city could experience signficant structure damage from storm surge. That includes Hilton Head Island, Hunting Island, Folly Beach and Wild Dunes.
Earlier, Haley ordered an evacuation of additional coastal areas in Jasper and Colleton counties not already under evacuation. Evacuation details are available on the S.C. Emergency Management Division’s website.
The scope of the evacuation could be expanded to include other areas recommended by local officials, according to a Governor’s Office news release. In case the evacuation is lengthy, those leaving are urged to pack required medications, adequate clothing and essential personal items.
The process for returning I-26 to normal operations will begin with law enforcement stopping traffic from entering the reversed lanes at I-526 in Charleston. Department of Public Safety officials will then begin removing traffic-control points on I-26 eastbound from Charleston to Columbia. Once the traffic control points have been removed and a final check performed, all lanes will return to normal operations. This process could take three hours or more.
Westbound I-26 will remain open during this operation, except for intermittent closures, according to a DOT news release.