Florence has now been downgraded to a tropical storm as it comes within miles of the South Carolina border Friday evening. But weather forecasters still warn residents not to rest easy yet.
The 5 p.m. National Hurricane Center update shows Florence’s center close to Carolina Shores, North Carolina, just miles from the state line. Forecasts still predict the storm will move westward into South Carolina into Friday night as it slowly moves towards the central region of the state on Saturday. The reports note Florence’s center is moving a mere five miles per hour, roughly the same speed a human walking quickly.
Gov. Henry McMaster warn Florence’s impact will be different than other hurricanes which historically followed the state coastline to the northeast. “This is going to be a very trying period,” he told reporters during a Friday briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center. “This is something that we haven’t had before. But I’m sure that it’s something we’re equal to.”
Besides the estimated 8-16 inches of rainfall forecasted in Florence’s path, officials are worried about floodwaters flowing down from North Carolina next week. Department of Natural Resources director Alvin Taylor said officials are eyeing the Pee Dee River basin, in particular.
“We have many small rivers that feed into that basin,” Taylor said during the briefing. “Both the Little Pee Dee and Lumber River take water out of North Carolina and it exits into the Pee Dee. And we also have the Waccamaw River which receives water from North Carolina, as well.”
More than 100,000 South Carolina customers were without power, as of 6 p.m. Friday. Utility leaders warn that number is likely to get higher as more power lines are knocked down. Crews are not likely to respond until the situation improves.
“As frustrating as it may sound, we literally have to just sit and wait sometimes,” Horry Electric Cooperative engineering manager Reed Cooper said in an email. “Our plans are in place, ready to go, but we have to wait to execute them.”
Meanwhile, National Guard commander Gen. Robert Livingston said the Guard is positioning vehicles and personnel to respond where needed. “We’re also working to preserve infrastructure, as time permits,” he said. “We will be prepared to support re-entry. We will be prepared to respond to needs of isolated areas as the storm progresses.”
State officials sought to reassure the public that emergency shelters were equipped to ride out the weekend, even if they became cut off from supplies. Department of Social Services acting director Joan Meachum said six shelters are full statewide, although four of them were special needs-only. More than 6,600 people were staying in the shelters as of Friday afternoon, she said.
“It has been verified that Horry County has a five-day feeding supply in their shelters at this time,” Meachum said.
Horry County Police have warned residents they will no longer be able to respond as Hurricane Florence starts to hit the Grand Strand in force. County officials said the 911 system is still able to handle calls, but would not be dispatching first responders in most cases until the storm eases up. Most of Myrtle Beach’s population evacuated ahead of the storm, but thousands still remain to ride it out. Nearly every town and unincorporated Horry County will be under a curfew Friday night.