S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said he will decide later Friday whether to order evacuations in some counties after state emergency officials receive an update on Hurricane Irma’s expected trajectory and impact.
“We are delaying the final decision on evacuation orders until after we receive more information about the hurricane at 5 p.m.,” McMaster told reporters at the S.C. Emergency Management Division in Columbia.
McMaster said if an evacuation is ordered, it will start at 10 a.m. Saturday.
At the same time, McMaster rescinded a portion of an executive order issued Thursday calling on health care facilities and nursing homes to evacuate from coastal counties. Now only the 27 facilities and three hospitals in Beaufort and Jasper counties are being required to evacuate, the governor said.
In its current track, the eye of Irma is set to make landfall over the southern portion of Florida on Sunday night and making its way north, nearing the southern portion of Georgia by Monday, according to the 11 a.m. Friday advisory of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The track could take Irma west of South Carolina, but the Palmetto State will still experience heavy rainfall and winds as strong as 70 mph in some places. Experts also see a “decent threat” of tornadoes in South Carolina.
Even as Irma tracks west, hurricane force winds could extend up to 70 miles from the center of the storm and tropical-storm force winds can extend 185 miles.
As of 2 p.m. Friday Irma was still an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.
Areas southwest of Interstate 26 could still see storm surges, minor to moderate river flooding and power outages.
Depending on the track of the storm, McMaster said it’s possible residents of some counties will not be asked to evacuate. Lane reversals on interstates and roads leading away from the coast will depend on an evacuation order.
But he stressed residents should continue to prepare for an evacuation if it comes.
“They should not change their preparations until we change our announcement on that,” he said.
McMaster said he does not see the need for a statewide decision to close schools and government offices across the state Monday and Tuesday. Instead, those decisions about closures will be decided locally.
As Hurricane Irma closes in on south Florida, motorists from that state and Georgia are driving north into South Carolina, crowding the highways.
The state’s highways had about 27,000 more motorists than usual Thursday and have had about 65,000 more than typical Friday, McMaster said at his afternoon update.
S.C. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said traffic patterns were heavy, especially on Interstate 95 from Georgia, “but still moving.”
Noting reports of gas shortages, McMaster urged S.C. residents not to panic and “make a run” on gas stations. Some stations had sold as much gas in a day as they normally sell in a week, he said.
“Don’t get gas if you don’t need it,” McMaster said. Instead, he said, “be reasonable.”
“You don't need a full tank of gas if a half a tank can get you all the way to Spartanburg.”