With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the Atlantic coast, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency Tuesday and called for the evacuation of coastal counties and closure of school and government office starting Wednesday.
Haley urged residents evacuating coastal communities to get at least 100 miles away from the coast and make sure to fill up on gasoline. If the hurricane stays its current course, it could be a category 2 or 3 hurricane by the weekend with storm surges of five to seven feet, she said.
The evacuation will begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday for Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, Horry and Georgetown.
However, officials will reevaluate the storm and evacuation plans Wednesday morning, Haley said. The governor and state officials will hold a news conference at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Haley asked residents to be patient and understand that the evacuation could take several hours. Officials urged S.C. residents to visit the Emergency Management Division’s website to check their evacuation status and recommended routes.
"You don't want to be caught in this,” Haley said, adding that buses will be moving people out of Charleston who do not have transportation.
Haley ordered school district and government offices to close starting Wednesday in the following counties: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lexington, Marlboro, Marion, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter and Williamsburg.
The University of South Carolina's downtown Columbia campus will close Wednesday in preparation for Hurricane Matthew.
Haley also urged private businesses, too, to follow the evacuation.
“I know the first thought is well maybe this storm will shift ... I hope that too, but you don’t want to get caught in this,” she said. “When we’re looking at surges this high and we’re looking at winds at this level, this is not something that we want to play with. ... If you don't get out in time, you might get stuck."
Lane reversals are planned from roads heading out of Charleston to start at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
Interstate 26 eastbound will be reversed starting at 3 p.m., with traffic heading away from the cost until the intersection of I-26 and I-77 in Columbia, said Derrec Becker with the S.C. Emergency Management Division.
That means commuters in Columbia will not be able to travel I-26 eastbound out of Columbia. However, interstates will be functioning normally northwest of Columbia, Becker said.
Haley said emergency officials have met annually to plan for hurricanes, taking into account the growth in population in the state and the 1999 debacle when commuters fleeing the Lowcountry were stuck in traffic for hours.
Haley called on Midlands residents to understand that traffic will snarl as coastal-area residents head inland.
She urged coastal residents to visit the Emergency Management Division’s website to find out if they are a part of the evacuation and, if so, what route they should take out of town.
Haley said she called for a state of emergency in South Carolina at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Governor Haley and state emergency officials plan to reassess their evacuation plan Wednesday morning.
Haley said there will be 3,700 law enforcement and more S.C. National Guard members on the road to assist with the evacuation. Comfort stages will be along the road to allow travelers to rest or use the bathroom.
Staff writer Cynthia Roldan contributed.