Local and state authorities are urging residents to stay indoors and off the roadways as the potential for heavy rain and flooding moves in for the weekend.
Friday’s weather in the Rock Hill area was cool, with scattered light showers. But the National Weather Service said the area can expect 4 to 6 inches of rain over the weekend, with 2 to 3 inches possible Friday night and wind gusts reaching 25 mph.
The wind and rain are expected to continue Saturday, with an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain possible. The weather has wreaked havoc on the area’s weekend events, some of which have been postponed or canceled.
Gov. Nikki Haley on Thursday declared a state of emergency in South Carolina in advance of Hurricane Joaquin, which forecasters now say is not likely to make landfall in the United States.
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Haley on Friday urged residents to prepare for historic rainfalls over the weekend that will bring extensive flooding and power outages.
She said people who live in low-lying areas need to leave. Shelters will open as needed. Otherwise, residents should stay at home and off roads.
While the state has not ordered evacuations, Haley said, “if you have ever flooded before, go ahead and get out of the way” because there will be massive flooding, she said. If people stay and need help later, “we don’t know how long it will take us to get you out of there.”
The storm has already been blamed for at least one death in South Carolina. Sylvia Arteaga, 56, drowned in a flash flood early Thursday under a railroad bridge in Spartanburg while driving home from the night shift.
The wet weather this weekend is mostly from a slowly moving upper level low-pressure system over the Southeast that will interact with tropical moisture.
A flash flood watch remains in effect for York, Chester and Lancaster counties through Monday morning.
Mike Channell, deputy emergency management director for York County, said Friday his office has been in contact with the S.C. Emergency Management Division throughout preparations for the storm, which included coordinating response and lining up swiftwater rescue equipment for rescue squads and fire departments.
“Right now, we’re just monitoring,” Channell said. “There’s so many uncertainties on the amounts we’re going to get, when we’re going to get it.”
Channell said they’ve asked local law enforcement agencies to keep an eye out for areas prone to flooding. Emergency crews will assess the potential hazard before making decisions on road closures or evacuations.
York County Public Safety Communications is bringing on an extra dispatcher for the weekend to handle the anticipated increase in call volume, said Ralph Merchant, operations manager.
Duke Energy crews began lowering the water levels at the Fishing Creek and Great Falls stations to make room for rainfall. Duke spokesperson Lisa Parrish said crews planned to lower them about 2 feet, which is the normal amount of daily fluctuation on the Catawba River.
“In the northern part of the Catawba region, we’re moving water through the system to ensure there’s ample storage for the anticipated in-flow,” she said, adding that they are doing the same for the southern Catawba region.
Ed Darby, senior planner for Chester County’s emergency management office, said the threat of wind is an increasing concern.
“That validates our concerns about trees and power lines,” he said.
Chester County officials have been planning for “a major rainfall event,” Darby said, urging residents on Friday to do the same. Once the heavier rain starts, Darby said it’s best to stay indoors and refrain from driving.
“If you don’t have to be out in the rain, stay at home,” he said. “We’re dealing with rain levels, if the forecast is correct, we’ve never seen before.”
Chester County officials have been in contact with the American Red Cross should shelters be needed, Darby said.
The S.C. Department of Public Safety on Friday asked motorists who must drive in inclement weather to watch out for standing water in the roadway, downed power lines and trees, low visibility from sudden downpours and flash flooding.
“Don’t take unnecessary risks,” Commander Mike Oliver of the Highway Patrol said. “Flash flooding is just what the name suggests. It happens very quickly and cars and pedestrians can be swept away by the force of the water. During hazardous weather, the Highway Patrol urges motorists to only use *HP for true emergencies such as reporting collisions or being stranded in a vehicle.”
The Charlotte Observer and the Associated Press contributed.
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