Police, firefighters and other city officials went door-to-door Friday in several Chester neighborhoods to urge residents in flood-prone areas to evacuate in advance of expected “catastrophic” rain from Hurricane Florence, officials said.
The evacuation is not mandatory, but it could become so later if conditions worsen, said Chester Police Department Chief Eric Williams.
“We want people to evacuate today on Friday, because by Saturday travel will likely be hazardous and treacherous,” said Ed Darby, assistant director of Chester County Emergency Management. “It will be so much harder for anyone who wants to get out to do so during the flooding. It will also be harder for emergency responders to get to anyone.”
Meanwhile, later in the day Friday, Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys urged his city’s residents to “band together” during what may be a trying time. Gettys urged Rock Hill presidents to pray and help each other as heavy rain approaches this region.
Chester’s Williams said the areas affected are all near downtown Chester. They include neighborhoods along Saluda, York, Lancaster and Loomis streets, Williams said.
The city of Chester, 20 miles south of Rock Hill, has about 5,500 residents. Hundreds of residents could see flooding, officials said.
“If a street or home or neighborhood floods when we have two or three inches of rain, there is a certainty that area will flood with three or four times that amount of rain,” Darby said.
The Loomis Street neighborhood sees flooding in almost every storm, so Chester Fire Department engineer James McNeil and senior engineer Kim Grafton visited hundreds of homes in that neighborhood telling residents an evacuation was the safest option. They handed out fliers explaining the evacuation advisory.
“It is very important that we take this very seriously, because we have never seen a storm like this before,” McNeil told Tony Crank. Crank, who lives on White Oak Street with his family, said he will evacuate.
“We can’t take a chance. This area floods every time,” Crank said. “I am too old to be riding out a storm like this one.”
Yet many others chose to stay home. Jackie Caldwell of Loomis Street said she has “lived here all my life” and will stay, but will send her family elsewhere.
“I know the storm is coming and hope that everybody will be safe and people don’t take a chance, because it looks like it will be very serious,” Caldwell said.
Yvonne Mills thanked Grafton for “being so nice to check on me,” but said she preferred to stay home.
“I already have water and food,” Mills said. “I am going to ride it out.”
Some, such as Thomas Moore, hadn’t yet decided..
“But I sure appreciate these firemen coming here to make sure that I knew what was coming,” Moore said.
City and county officials decided to ask for evacuations after the forecast, for up to 10 inches of rain or more late Friday and early Saturday.
“We know these areas flood,” Williams said. “People need to know that their best and safest option right now is to leave and find a safer place to go through the storm. We want the residents to take every precaution. Our job is to protect them and that is what we will do.”
City police and firefighters have sandbags, chainsaws and road barriers ready to block streets that flood, Williams said.
City workers from the Department of Public Works and Chester City Hall also did house-by-house notifications. County and city officials also sent out a Reverse 911 evacuation notification to all land lines on those streets.
Evacuees who do not have family or friends to stay with can stay at shelters at Chester Middle School or Lewisville Middle School. Both shelters opened Thursday, and will remain open throughout the storm, Darby said.
“These shelters are here for a reason - to keep people safe, warm and fed,” he said. “We want people to be safe and right now the safest thing for these areas is for people to leave.”