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Evacuation lifted in southern SC, northern counties brace for Dorian, governor says

Hurricane Dorian lashes NC coast

Hurricane Dorian's eye was about 35 miles south of Wilmington, according to an 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. The storm picked up speed while losing strength approaching NC.
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Hurricane Dorian's eye was about 35 miles south of Wilmington, according to an 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. The storm picked up speed while losing strength approaching NC.

As Hurricane Dorian passed northern Charleston County, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the evacuation order on parts of the Lowcountry which were largely spared the storm’s wrath.

Residents living in Jasper, Beaufort and Colleton counties will be allowed to return to their homes at 3 p.m. Thursday, McMaster said. The governor advised residents to listen for directions on returning to the area from local authorities.

Schools and state government offices in those counties will be allowed to open for regular business tomorrow, McMaster added.

But, the worst is yet to come for the Palmetto State. McMaster said forecasters predicted Thursday that Horry and Georgetown counties would be hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian.

Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties remain under an evacuation order. And government offices and schools in those counties will remain closed Friday, McMaster said.

He said it was too early to say when evacuation orders for those counties would be lifted.

“We are still battening down the hatches in the other five (coastal) counties, and we want everybody to be alert,” McMaster said.

Parts of Georgetown and Horry counties are expected to see from 7 to 15 inches of rain, National Weather Service forecaster John Quagliariello said. With that rain will come flooding, he added.

The Waccamaw River, which runs parallel to the coast connecting Conway and Georgetown, is expected to crest late Friday night at 14 feet, Quagliariello said. The river will stay at that depth for seven to ten days.

A storm surge between 4 and 8 feet is expected in Georgetown and Horry counties, Quagliariello added.

Cities in the Grand Strand were already experiencing flooding early Thursday afternoon, with a foot of water covering Front Street in Georgetown, McMaster said. North Myrtle Beach saw up to 4 feet of flooding in some areas, the governor added.

“When the wind is gone, we’re going to have to deal with the water,” McMaster said.

Two tornadoes were also confirmed in the Grand Strand: one in North Myrtle Beach and one in Little River.

Nearly 250,000 people were without power Thursday afternoon in South Carolina as Hurricane Dorian churned off the coast, gaining strength overnight Wednesday and intensifying briefly to a Category 3 hurricane.

At least three emergency operations centers in Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties lost power and relied on generators at some point during the storm.

State Office of Regulatory Staff Executive Director Nanette Edwards said it was too early to say how long it will take to restore to power to coastal areas hit by storm.

“The utilities are going to have to have the opportunity to go out and do an assessment of the damage, and it depends on how quickly the storm moves out (away from the S.C. coast),” Edwards said. “Utility trucks will only roll if (winds) are below 35 mph. And they are restoring service ... when and where they can.”

About 2,500 people were staying in 33 emergency shelters open statewide, with another two dozen on standby.

Damage reports were still coming in early Thursday morning from coastal counties and communities. But preliminary reports showed little reported structural damage to residences and businesses, S.C. Emergency Management Division Director Kim Stenson said.

“This is still very early in the process,” Stenson said. “The storm is still ongoing,” with all coastal counties reporting localized flooding.

No storm-related deaths had been reported in South Carolina. And no storm-related rescues had been reported as of early Thursday afternoon.

McMaster was joined by Acting U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor, who has urban search-and-rescue and swift-water rescue teams stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia.

In all, Gaynor said more than 12,000 federal responders — National Guard, FEMA employees, nonprofit and private sector federal partners — “are out there right now ready to support” state and local officials in the Palmetto State.

“South Carolina has it well in hand, well organized,” Gaynor said. “Should the governor need assistance, we stand ready.”

Not counting local authorities, more than 325 rescuers have been deployed across the state to help as needed, said Emily Farr, director of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Teams have been staged in North Charleston, Charleston and Horry County as well as Manning and Columbia.

Additionally, the South Carolina National Guard has more than 1,600 soldiers and airmen activated in response to the storm. About 90 high water vehicles and debris teams are pre-staged to assist with high-water vehicle transportation and evacuation, search and rescue, and debris clearing, said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the adjutant general for South Carolina.

State officials encouraged residents returning to the southern coast to be patient and expect lengthy travel times, blocked roadways, or detours back to evacuated areas. They also urged residents not to drive around barricades or use emergency lanes that are needed for first responders.

While weather conditions have improved in these counties, motorists should be cautious of fallen trees, downed power lines, and standing water in and around roadways. Returning residents may also experience outages, state officials said.

“We still have high winds and a whole lot of water,” McMaster said. “Be careful. ... We’ve had no storm-related deaths, and we want to keep it that way. We can rebuild a building, but you can’t start a life all over again.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.
Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.