Gov. Henry McMaster said he believes it was the correct decision not to order the evacuation of Charleston once Hurricane Irma moved west, despite the eventual severe flooding and storm surges which paralyzed the city’s downtown peninsula on Monday.
In a briefing with reporters, McMaster said he ordered the evacuation of eight barrier islands further down the coastline because those islands only had a single way in or out. “Evacuating an entire city is something you have to take great, great caution doing because there’s lots of economic impact for such a thing,” he said. “Under the circumstances, we believed then and believe now that the warning that we gave repeatedly of storm surges was the right way to do it.”
The governor lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for Daufuskie, Edisto Beach, Fripp, Harbor, Hilton Head, Hunting, Knowles and Tulifinny islands in Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties. The governor waited until Friday night to announce the order, watching as forecasters moved Irma’s projected path further west.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg defended the governor Tuesday. Tecklenburg told reporters he had initially wanted to evacuate the city, but changed his mind by Thursday as it became increasingly apparent Irma’s center would miss South Carolina.
“You had to weigh putting people in harm’s way,” he said during a city press conference. “A full evacuation of coastal South Carolina would’ve pushed hundreds of thousands of people towards where we pretty reliably, at that point, knew the hurricane was headed.”
Tecklenburg said forecasters and emergency officials accurately warned Charleston residents about the possibility of up to 6-foot storm surges. While four deaths have been blamed on Irma in South Carolina, none involved water and all occurred far away from the coast.
The mayor did say he sees the value of “Monday morning quarterbacking” after a storm and admitted Tuesday he would have considered opening emergency shelters earlier in the process, if he could change anything.