South Carolinians could lose power for days, even weeks after Hurricane Florence washes through the Palmetto State, possibly rivaling the state’s historic 1,000-year flood in 2015, state leaders warned Friday.
They also warned of the threat of life-threatening flash flooding.
“Florence is a very large storm,” said John Quagliariello, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia. “If you were to look on (the) radar ... you can see that it’s approximately the size of the state of South Carolina.”
Now a tropical storm, Hurricane Florence landed on the North Carolina coast as a Category 1 storm early Friday, killing at least four. It then moved slowly through South Carolina at 5 mph, only a little faster than the average person’s walking speed. That slow speed means South Carolina “is in for long-duration impacts, especially across the northeast part of the state,” Quagliariello said.
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S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster called for patience Friday, saying, “Hurricane Florence is different from those (storms) we’ve had before.”
“This hurricane is going to be with us for about two days,” McMaster said. “Florence is here to stay.”
Roughly 441,000 South Carolinians have evacuated the coast since McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations, effective at noon Tuesday.
Of those who left, about 6,433 were being housed Friday in evacuation shelters across the state. The state had more than 30,000 additional open beds at 55 shelters for the general population, according to the S.C. Department of Social Services.
Most of those shelters are located in schools, which have been closed to students, teachers and faculty since Tuesday. McMaster said Friday that state officials will announce at a later date when schools will reopen.
McMaster and other officials warned of heavy rainfall through the state — made worse by overflowing N.C. rivers — that likely will cause life-threatening flash flooding. The National Weather Service in Columbia predicts the Grand Strand and Pee Dee areas will get 15-25 inches of rain. The central Midlands is expected to get 3-6 inches of rainfall.
On Friday, McMaster said he spoke to leaders of the small, poor Marion town of Nichols, washed out by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 after rainwater flowed down the Lumber and Little Pee Dee rivers from North Carolina.
“I assured them ... that we’re pulling for them, we’re praying for them and we’re working with them,” McMaster said.
S.C. Transportation Department Secretary Christy Hall said that agency is watching the Lumber, Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers. “Obviously, each of those crossings over those rivers, we’re analyzing those very carefully.”
Hall said it was too early to determine which roads might sustain damage from Florence.
The S.C. Emergency Management Division said it is preparing for water rescues after Florence. Spokesman Derrec Becker said rescue teams have come to South Carolina from across the country, including Florida and Ohio.
As of Friday night, no injuries or deaths related to the storm had been reported in South Carolina.
“We’re urging everybody to be patient, to be cautious and don’t gamble,” McMaster said.
“We do not want to lose a single life in South Carolina in this storm.”