Gov. Henry McMaster urged S.C. residents to stay off the roads Monday, as Irma – downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm – pelted the Palmetto State with rain.
Heavy rain and high winds are likely to continue for the rest of Monday, McMaster said at a 2 p.m. press conference – a day after Irma came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Florida and weakened into a tropical storm.
To back up his plea, McMaster cited a video of law enforcement officers on Edisto Beach rescuing a car stuck in the storm’s surge. “There’s no need to put yourselves, your family or first responders at risk in this dangerous storm.”
McMaster and state emergency officials said they did not know of any other rescues or fatalities associated with the storm at this time. However, they cautioned, emergency crews are patrolling the barrier islands and areas inundated with rising waters along the coast.
Edisto Beach was one of eight coastal islands McMaster ordered evacuated on Friday. As of Monday afternoon, McMaster said no decision had yet been made to lift the evacuation order and allow residents to return.
That decision would be made with local law enforcement and emergency management agencies, McMaster said.
At the time of McMaster’s update, Irma was about 50 miles south-southeast of Albany, Ga. But its tropical force winds extended more than 400 miles northeast of that area, said meteorologist John Quagliariello.
A tornado watch is in effect for the southeastern coast of South Carolina. There also have been numerous tornado warnings in Charleston, he said.
Several streets in Charleston also have flooded during the storm as the tide approached record levels, Quagliariello said.
“The tide gauge in Charleston has surpassed the level reached during Hurricane Matthew, and is now at its third highest level recorded and rising,” he added. “Travel is not advised.”
Eighty-three roads were closed across the state Monday. More than 2,000 workers with the S.C. Department of Transportation were already out clearing roadways.
Downed trees and flooding are the leading causes of road closures, officials said. S.C. residents can check their area for live updates on road closures at the S.C. DOT website.
Officials urged motorists to stay off the roads. However, if residents must drive, they were warned not to drive around barricades. Water on the road can obscure dangerous flooding and road failures.
Twenty-five shelters were open across the state for evacuees, with 885 people staying in them Monday afternoon, McMaster said. Officials said evacuees from Florida and Georgia are welcome at the shelters.
More than 146,000 S.C. homes were without power at midday Monday. Several thousand linemen were working outages across the state, but some crews had to stop work until the worst of the storm blows over, officials said.
National Guards members and state law enforcement officers are patrolling communities that have been evacuated.
McMaster issued a warning to anyone looking to cause trouble in communities that have been evacuated. “We have no tolerance for those who would try to take advantage of this situation created by the storm for personal gain.”
Looters and others committing criminal acts “will be arrested immediately and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.