Gov. Henry McMaster said Thursday he is “99 percent sure” that he will order mandatory evacuations along the coast for Saturday morning.
McMaster made the remark in a press briefing, where he urged residents to prepare now. The latest National Weather Service forecasts, as of Thursday evening have Hurricane Irma hugging the Florida coastline before entering Georgia on Monday morning, with the center potentially moving north across the Peach State. The storm’s eastern side would still impact South Carolina.
“We’ll wait and see when we have the best information, because we want to base that on all the facts or information we have at the time,” the governor said. “But we’re confident, about 99 percent sure I would say… that it will take effect at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.”
McMaster said nothing is preventing residents from leaving now, if they want to get out early. He urged drivers to make the process easier by using the established evacuation routes instead of relying on a GPS, which may not account for new traffic patterns once mandatory evacuations begin.
Meanwhile, McMaster also signed an executive order which evacuates residents staying at 143 healthcare facilities — including hospitals and nursing homes — located in parts of Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry and Jasper counties. He also signed another order that all dam owners across the state evaluate and determine whether they need to lower water levels in advance of Irma’s anticipated rainfall. More than 60 dams failed due to rainfall from hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The governor’s order asks dam owners to coordinate with property owners downstream to minimize additional damage and authorizes the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to act as necessary to protect life and property.
Lane reversals will be part of any evacuation order, particularly along Interstate 26 between Charleston and Columbia. McMaster said more than 2,300 state and local law enforcement officers will be on duty for any potential evacuation. Up to 5,000 National Guard troops will be available for duty by Tuesday, according to Adjutant General Robert Livingston.