The state of South Carolina is preparing for some level of impact from Hurricane Florence, Gov. Henry McMaster. The hurricane on Monday grew into a powerful Category 4 storm.
“A hurricane is coming our way,” McMaster said Sunday at a news conference held at the State Emergency Operations Center. “Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina.”
McMaster, predicting a “likely strong hit on South Carolina,” stressed that residents should begin planning now to evacuate if necessary. That means filling prescriptions, planning a route, notifying relatives and emergency contacts of where you’re headed, making plans for pets, boarding up properties and stocking up on provisions.
“Because you may not — you may not — be coming home for several days,” McMaster said, directing people to SCEMD.org. “So be prepared. Be ready.”
The latest projection for the path of the storm, released at 11 a.m. Monday, showed the storm track centered just north of the Carolinas border with forecasters declaring Monday, “Florence rapidly strengthens into a major hurricane” with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. It is forecast to reach the coast later in the week.
“Whatever happens, we’re going to have a lot of rain and a lot of wind, even if the hurricane goes farther north,” said McMaster, who is expected to hold a media briefing again Monday afternoon.
The “winds with this one are predicted to be more powerful than they were on Hugo,” McMaster said, referencing the 1989 hurricane that made landfall in McClellanville and caused major damage in both Carolinas. Winds in Hugo topped out at 135 mph, and the storm caused $7 billion in damage.
The state has submitted a request to President Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration, McMaster announced, which once approved would clear the way for federal funds and assistance for any damage caused by the storm.
That formal request to Trump included: “The potential storm surge, strong winds, and rainfall pose threats beyond state capability to manage including need for widespread search and rescue, rescue from swift water, long term sheltering operations, air operations in support of life saving and life sustaining missions, assistance with transportation of vulnerable populations, support for areas without power or drinking water, and other unforeseen consequences of the historic hurricane to which the state is currently vulnerable.“
Major Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., who serves as the head of the Military Department of the state of South Carolina, said more than 800 National Guardsmen have been activated and will be on active duty Monday. Another 3,000 are drilling and are on standby for deployment, Livingston said. Another 285 guardsmen and 1,617 S.C. law enforcement officers are ready for deployment to the coast, state officials said.
Livingston said they’ve also spoken with officials in North Carolina for a commitment of assets should Florence make landfall in the Palmetto State, and vice versa.
Kim Stenson, director of the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel will arrive in the state Monday “to start the planning process should we have to evacuate.”
As of Sunday evening, SCEMD had 125 buses set to be staged in Orangeburg to deploy to the coast if needed, provided such items as sandbags and generators to counties as requested, and positioned regional emergency managers to help in coastal counties.
South Carolina coastal areas can expect tropical storm force winds by Thursday morning on the storm’s latest track, according to John Quagliariello from the National Weather Service in Columbia.
“It’s still important to remember the cone of uncertainty still covers the entire South Carolina coast, as the governor mentioned, meaning that landfall along coastal South Carolina is still a possibility,” Quagliariello said. “Remember, the storm is still five days out, and changes to the track can and likely will occur.”
He noted Florence is expected to slow, or even stall, over the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic region for at least several days after making landfall. That could result is significant flash flooding.
Asked when a determination would be made on evacuations, McMaster responded: “We’ll be making the appropriate announcements at the appropriate time, with plenty of lead time and notice in advance. ... We are constantly reviewing and analyzing the information to determine what the best course of action is.”
He added, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
More developments from the weekend:
▪ McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, meaning the state can put hurricane preparations into effect and begin coordinating resources, and it allows the use of the National Guard if necessary.
▪ The S.C. Emergency Management Division on Sunday announced it is operating at Operation Condition 3, which means that agencies are preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster emergency situation as officials monitor the forecasts of Florence. The Emergency Management Division has a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being a normal day and 1 being an ongoing disaster.
▪ The National Weather Service in Columbia emphasized earlier Sunday that the impacts of a hurricane can extend more than 100 miles from the storm’s center.