South Carolina’s Lowcountry is being lashed with strong winds and minor flooding Monday morning as the eastern side of Tropical Storm Irma reaches the Beaufort and Charleston regions.
Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue has now resumed response operations after suspending them from 9-11:45 a.m. as Irma’s winds reached more than 40 miles per hour and waves lashed the island’s coast. “We’ve suspended all operations in the field until further notice as the weather conditions continue to get worse,” Chief Brad Tadlock said in a video posted by the town to its YouTube page.
As of 11 a.m. Monday, Irma was downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane as its center passed between the cities of Tallahassee and Jacksonville in northern Florida. It is expected to cross into Florida by the afternoon. The National Hurricane Center said a tropical storm warning remains in effect along the South Carolina coastlines between the South Santee River south of Georgetown and the Georgia border. Forecasters predict potential winds up to 60 miles per hour are possible.
Gov. Henry McMaster held one last briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center on Sunday, saying the state is prepared to respond. He urged residents to still take the storm seriously, despite the center being further west than initially predicted last week. “This is a serious storm, but fortunately it’s not hitting us like we thought it might,” he told reporters Sunday. McMaster is expected to hold another briefing Monday afternoon, as Irma moves past.
The governor late last week ordered more than 44,000 people to evacuate from Hilton Head and seven other barrier islands in Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties. Thousands of residents are remaining behind to weather out the storm. Utilities have shut off water to Fripp Island, while the last ferry left Daufuskie Island on Sunday afternoon. The island near Hilton Head is only accessible by boat.
More than 72,000 power outages have been reported statewide, according to South Carolina Electric & Gas and the SC Electric Cooperatives. Outages are spread out across the utilities’ service region, but the largest are reported in Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties.
State emergency officials have launched a toll-free hotline for residents who have non-emergency questions about Hurricane Irma and the response. Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said volunteers will be staffing the hotline 24 hours a day for as long as is needed before, during, and after the storm. You can call the phone number at 1-866-246-0133.
Charleston Police are trying to keep drivers away from the Battery along the southern tip of the downtown peninsula as waves crash over the seawall. Flooding is reported across the peninsula, and authorities are urging residents to stay off the streets as high tides come in and make the food locations unpredictable.