South Carolina

McMaster to SC coast: ‘Leave now’ ahead of Hurricane Florence

If you are waiting to leave South Carolina’s coast ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected landfall this weekend, the governor has a message for you: hurry up and get out.

“As we have been predicting, this hurricane is unpredictable,” McMaster said at a news briefing updating the state’s response to Florence on Wednesday. “If you are in one of the evacuation zones, you need to leave now.”

More than 300,000 people have already evacuated from the coast, McMaster said, and traffic on the highway was moving steadily on Wednesday. But that’s still short of an estimated more than 750,000 people who were expected to leave when evacuations were ordered as of noon Tuesday.

McMaster reiterated Wednesday he was not ordering an evacuation from Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties after those counties were removed from the evacuation order on Tuesday. But said if you are in an area that normally floods during heavy rains, “You should go ahead and leave.”

Hurricane Florence could dump more rain on the state than Hugo because it’s expected to stop over South Carolina for several days, and could move across the South Carolina coastline.

Florence weakened slightly to a Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday. Lanes on Interstate 26 that were reversed on Tuesday will resume eastbound traffic at 6 p.m. on Thursday, state officials announced.

Florence is now expected to pass over much of South Carolina, with storm force winds beginning Thursday and hurricane force winds on Friday, said John Quagliariello with the National Weather Service in Columbia.

There is a danger of flash flooding and river flooding, particularly in the Pee Dee, Quagliariello said.

On Tuesday, McMaster lifted the evacuation order for three counties in the lower part of the state. Residents of Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties were told they would not need to evacuate with residents on the rest of the coast.

However, late Tuesday the track of Hurricane Florence shifted south, creating uncertainty over how much impact the Lowcountry counties will see from the storm.

An updated track at 5 a.m. Wednesday update shows the storm changing course and moving more into South Carolina after the hurricane would make landfall.

The National Weather Service now projects Florence will pass through the center of the Columbia metro area mid-day Sunday.

Eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 were reversed on Tuesday as other areas of the coast continue to evacuate. Traffic backed up at the intersection of Interstate 26 and Interstate 77 in Columbia early Tuesday as the lanes were closed at 10 a.m.

By 1:30 p.m., traffic was backed up for five miles from the intersection, with traffic moving less than 15 miles per hour.

Before the governor’s order was lifted Tuesday, the state had no plans to evacuate nearly 1,000 prisoners at Ridgeland Correctional Institution in Jasper County, along with essential personnel.

In 2016, during Hurricane Matthew, an inmate died at Ridgeland Correctional Institution, according to a previous report in The State. Then Gov. Nikki Haley said the death was seemingly unrelated, according to the report.

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