As Hurricane Florence’s projected path continues to shift ever so slightly to the north, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted the evacuation order for three southern coastal counties.
Less than an hour before the noon mandatory evacuation was set to take effect, McMaster rescinded the order for Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties. However, the order is still in effect for the isolated island community of Edisto Beach in Colleton County. The rest of South Carolina’s coastal zones are still under the noon order.
“The mandatory evacuation is still in place for the evacuation zones in Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties,” McMaster told reporters in a briefing. “This is still a very dangerous storm. We must take it very seriously.”
The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane watch for the entire coast from Edisto Beach north to the North Carolina border. Watches are usually issued 48 hours ahead of a storm and warn residents about the possibility of hurricane conditions. They are different from hurricane warnings which mean an impact may be imminent.
“Remember not to focus on the projected landfall of Florence,” said John Quagliariello, National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist. “While the official track shows landfall along the southern North Carolina coast, the cone of uncertainty still covers most of the South Carolina coastline, indicating a potential landfall along the South Carolina coast is still possible.”
State government offices and schools in Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Colleton and Hampton counties will reopen on Wednesday after a Tuesday closure. The remaining 19 counties which were shut down Tuesday will remain closed for now.
McMaster said he also ordered lane reversals to begin an hour earlier than planned along Interstate 26 between Charleston and Columbia. Initially, the governor had said the changeover would begin at noon Tuesday. However, the Department of Public Safety opened all lanes to westbound traffic at 11 a.m. U.S. Highway 501 in Horry County will still transition over at noon.
With the rescindment of Beaufort County’s evacuation order, lane reversals will no longer happen along U.S. Highway 278 leading out of Hilton Head and U.S. Highway 21 out of Beaufort.
Despite the lifting of the evacuation order for some counties, officials are warning South Carolinians not to become complacent.
“There is some concern that residents in the evacuation zones will see the track and think the storm will not pose a threat. But it’s important to remember that the impacts of this hurricane will extend far beyond where it makes landfall,” Quagliariello said. “Overall it’s better to get prepared now and to get to a safe location if you’re in an evacuation zone than risk being directly impacted by a landfalling major hurricane if Florence does indeed come to the South Carolina coast and make direct landfall here.”