Hurricane Matthew is likely to strike Beaufort County at high tide before dawn Saturday and to plow into the Grand Strand after sun up – also at its most vulnerable moment, Gov. Nikki Haley warned on Friday.
Projected to be downgraded to a still dangerous Category 1 storm, Matthew will spare Charleston by not hitting there at high tide, Haley said during an afternoon news conference.
“We need to really say prayers, not just for those in Florida and Georgia, but now it is about South Carolina,” she said. “I wish (for) all of you that you be safe, that you be careful, that you take care of each other.”
The hurricane’s storm surge could reach 6 to 9 feet along the state’s lower coast and 5 to 7 feet north of Charleston, said John Quagliariello, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
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“Just try to visualize just how high that water is,” he said.
Access to barrier islands, including culturally rich Daufuskie Island, could be severed. Haley said 19 Daufuskie residents left Friday, but that leaves about 80 stranded on the island already accessible only by boat. Earlier during the day, she had warned that Daufuskie would be “under water.”
“We did the best we could,” she said. “The rest of the residents, when we asked – they’re just not going to leave.”
The surge could be 4 to 6 feet northward of Edisto Beach to Cape Fear, N.C., the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. Friday update. That adds the tourist-rich Grand Strand to the other threatened coastal areas.
Beyond the coast, hurricane-force winds could reach 60 miles from the storm’s center, and tropical-storm winds could extend 185 miles, hurricane center forecasts predicted.
Columbia is not expected to be hit as badly. Still, city officials have had crews and equipment ready since Thursday, public works director Robert Anderson said.
Two swiftwater rescue teams from the capital city’s fire department left for Colleton County. The department’s mass-evacuation response vehicles also were dispatched to a medical rehabilitation facility in Hanahan to help evacuate patients to Columbia.
Find a safe place
As of Friday afternoon, 355,000 people had evacuated from the Lowcountry, an increase of 45,000 just since Friday morning.
That’s still 145,000 short of the 500,000 people state officials had encouraged to flee.
Haley urged those who stayed behind to “just hunker down.”
She advised that they stay in a safe place, preferably houses that have second floors or higher. Make sure cell phones are charged in anticipation of power outages, Haley said.
The governor said 69 shelters have opened and are occupied by 4,249 people. That’s far from capacity. “There’s lots and lots of room,” she told evacuees that might need a shelter. An additional 17 shelters are on standby, state officials said.
Red Cross officials in Columbia reported 99 people are staying at a shelter at White Knoll High School in the Red Bank area and 91 at Dent Middle School near Forest Acres.
Interstate 26 had been converted into a one-way thoroughfare between Columbia and Charleston for two days to encourage evacuations. It was reopened Friday to any traffic bound for the Lowcountry.
No state-owned bridges were closed in South Carolina Friday morning. Movable bridges have been locked down so that vehicles can still drive on them, but waterway traffic can not pass through, said transportation chief Christy Hall.
Larger bridges in Charleston will be closed if wind speeds hit 40 mph or higher, authorities said.
Power crews at the ready
The state also was preparing for power outages as a result of the storm.
“What we may be looking at is a lot of power outages for an extended period of time,” Haley said.
South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. said it has maintenance crews in place and prepared to stare down another high-magnitude natural disaster like last year’s flood.
“We feel we’re in a proper position from a manpower standpoint to be able to handle what is to come,” said Keller Kissam, SCE&G retail operations president.
As of 9:30 p.m. Friday, 11,800 SCE&G customers in Beaufort County were out of power, according to the utility's outage map.
Further up the coast, power already was out on upscale Kiawah and Seabrook islands south of Charleston, as well. But that was intentional on the part of Berkeley Electric Cooperative, which said it was cutting power to substations to prevent storm surge damage.
Residents in those two communities might have to wait awhile to again flip their switches because it will take time to power up the substations, officials at the cooperative said. But it would take longer to repair them.
Kissam said utility companies will coordinate with law enforcement and the National Guard so that restoring power can be done safely and quickly.
Fripp Island officials have cut off the community’s water supply, the governor said.
Stay off the road
In Charleston County’s McClellanville, heavy rain and strong winds had begun by 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The Charleston and Georgetown areas are expected to receive 13 inches of rain or more from the storm, according to the National Weather Service.
Inland flooding will be an issue up and down the coast.
Most of the state’s coastal counties have imposed curfews from midnight Friday through 6 a.m. on Saturday. In Beaufort County, a curfew will be in effect from dusk Friday through dawn on Saturday.
Officials say they don’t want people driving or walking around while law officers and emergency workers have to deal with issues related to the storm.
Addressing Charlestonians who had not left by Friday, the city’s emergency management director, Mark Wilbert, said, “It will be no time to be out and about. There will be water everywhere.”
But evacuated residents may not return to their homes just because the storm has passed until National Guard troops and local law enforcement have declared their neighborhoods safe, Haley said.
About 2,500 Guardsmen have been activated to deal with the hurricane, she said.
Haley said 174 medical facilities have been evacuated from coastal areas. Patients at Beaufort Memorial Hospital were being relocated to facilities in Aiken, Anderson, Dillon and Cheraw, said the state’s Health agency chief, Catherine Heigel.
Heigel said inspectors are keeping especially watchful eyes on 44 dams that are under emergency orders. Owners of those dams have been asked to lower water levels, she said.
Sunny skies ahead
Some retailers in Columbia will not open Saturday as a precaution. ITech Connnections and Edible Arrangements in Five Points will be closed, along with Cupcakes Down South in the Vista.
The State Museum and Riverbanks Zoo closed, along with the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Mann-Simons site and the Woodrow Wilson Home.
But EdVenture Children’s Museum plans to be open.
The Soda City market on Main Street is moving into the parking garage at Taylor and Sumter streets as it usually does during bad weather.
Lexington County trash collection centers and libraries will close Saturday but reopen Sunday. The trash centers will open two hours early this Sunday, from 1-7 p.m. Libraries will resume normal hours Sunday.
The storm was having little to no effect on flights at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, according to manager Dan Mann. But Columbia’s downtown airport, Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport, is closing.
Ken Aucoin, a former television meteorologist who now works in Richland County Emergency Services, said rain will be intensifying throughout the evening Friday in Columbia, with a steady downfall between 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Expected rain amounts have increased to 4 to 6 inches.
“Over that period of time, that’s manageable,” he said. “It’s when we get that over two hours that it’s trouble.”
Wind gusts of 40- to 45-mph are expected.
“You’ll see the stars out Saturday night,” Aucoin said. “We might even get a nice sunset out of it. And Sunday, will be as picture perfect as you can get.”
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State writers Cassie Cope, Tim Flach, Roddie Burris, Jeff Wilkinson, Cynthia Roldán, Sammy Fretwell and the Associated Press contributed.