Evacuation of Zone A in Horry County is set to begin at noon Thursday, a process that is expected to take 15 hours and create traffic headaches for residents across the county.
Gov. Nikki Haley made the evacuation official during a press conference Thursday morning.
Traffic lanes are not expected to be reversed on U.S. 501, but officials are prepared to enact a reversal should the need arise. The priority for public safety officials directing the evacuation is to move traffic away from the beach area, not allowing more traffic into the area.
Residents who live inside the affected zone that runs along the beachfront areas who choose to ignore the evacuation order, may find themselves going to work in the morning and coming home to a residential area blocked by law enforcement.
“Please do take the time to evacuate. This is a storm we do want to take seriously,” said Haley.
Officials are concerned about the heavy rainfall, water levels from storm surge, and wind gusts coming to the area as soon as Friday night.
Local officials say it’s their primary job to enforce the evacuation order, but will also look at individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
“We take enforcement of an evacuation seriously, and will enforce it,” said Pat Dowling, spokesman for North Myrtle Beach. “But once you get down to the local level, you may have somebody who has to go to their essential job. We’re going to look at that and talk to the person, and the officer at the point of entry can make that decision.”
In Myrtle Beach, Lt. Joey Crosby said getting into the city once an evacuation begins will depend on whether the governor orders lanes on 501 be reversed to expedite the movement of traffic.
“If there is no lane reversal, that person would be able to come back home,” Crosby said.
Haley initially announced that evacuations in Horry and Georgetown counties would begin Wednesday afternoon, but postponed her order until Thursday.
To see a map of the Grand Strand evacuation zones, click here.
The evacuation zone includes all areas east of U.S. Business 17 to the intersection with U.S. 17, and all areas east of U.S. 17 to the northern county line. In addition, evacuations include all low-lying areas, mobile homes and campground sites.
The pending evacuation order prompted Horry County officials to move to OPCON 2.
Weather forecasts for Hurricane Matthew on Tuesday showed the storm making a Category 2 landing north of Myrtle Beach on the North Carolina border. By Wednesday, forecasts indicated that Matthew will take a sharp right turn out to sea early Saturday morning before reaching South Carolina.
With a few days remaining before the storm strikes, the National Hurricane Center warns that Matthew’s erratic path is still subject to change, and that South Carolina residents should pay close attention to evolving weather reports.
Coast RTA will temporarily suspend scheduled routes Thursday in order to assist with evacuating residents in the affected zone to one of 20 local shelters in the county.
Once the evacuation is completed, law enforcement officials will be present in the zone to protect property against looters. Curfews may be put in place, but residents will not be forced to leave their homes.
“Are we going to go door-to-door and make them leave? No,” Crosby said. “We will make recommendations and encourage folks to leave and also advise them of potential danger they are in if they don’t.”
In South Carolina, evacuations are no longer mandatory or voluntary, but rather an order issued by the governor that residents are to follow.
The purpose of an evacuation is to escape the storm surge. Technically, no one is allowed back in the area until the governor lifts the evacuation order, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.
Law enforcement will work with residents who choose to stay behind as best they can, but the purpose of an evacuation is to leave the area, Bourcier said.
Statewide, Haley ordered evacuations from hurricane zones in Charleston and Beaufort on Wednesday, and ordered lane reversals on Interstate 26 to accommodate the flow while the evacuation is in process.
For Horry County, the evacuation routes are as follows:
▪ North Myrtle Beach and northward: Evacuees from north of Briarcliffe Acres will take SC 9 north to I-95 and beyond.
▪ Briarcliffe Acres south to Myrtle Beach 10th Avenue North: Evacuees in Briarcliffe Acres south to 10th Avenue North (Mr. Joe White Avenue) will take SC 22 (Conway Bypass) to US 501 to Marion. In Marion, they may then take US 76 to Florence to access I-95 southbound or they may stay on US 501 to SC 38 to access I-95 northbound.
▪ Myrtle Beach, from 10th Avenue North south to the Myrtle Beach International Airport: Evacuees from the Myrtle Beach area south of 10th Avenue North and north of the Myrtle Beach International Airport will take US 501 to Conway. They may then take US 378 to Columbia or continue on US 501 to Marion. In Marion they may then take US 76 to Florence to access I-95 southbound or they may stay on US 501 to SC 38 to access I-95 northbound.
▪ Myrtle Beach International Airport southward through Surfside Beach: Evacuees from the Myrtle Beach International Airport south through Surfside Beach will take SC 544 to US 501 to Conway. They may then take US 378 to Columbia or continue on US 501 to Marion. In Marion they may then take US 76 to Florence to access I-95 southbound or they may stay on US 501 to SC 38 to access I-95 northbound.
▪ Garden City Beach south to Winyah Bay: Evacuees from Garden City Beach south to Winyah Bay will take US 17 south through Georgetown. They will then take US 521 to SC 261 to US 378 to Columbia. Alternatively, they may take US 17 south to US 701 in Georgetown to SC 51 to US 378 at Kingsburg.