With Hurricane Matthew approaching Florida, its path toward coastal South Carolina is still uncertain, but tropical storm warnings were issued for most coastal counties.
Horry, Georgetown, Williamsburg, Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties are under warnings, the National Weather Service announced Thursday afternoon.
Tropical storm force winds are expected to develop beginning late Friday night into Saturday morning. The winds will peak Saturday afternoon and remain into Sunday when the storm is expected to turn away from the coast. The National Weather Service is gaining more confidence that the storm will turn east after coming up the coast of Georgia and South Carolina.
Impacts with tropical storm force winds include power outages, some damage to structures and downed trees and limbs.
The NWS announced Thursday that the closest approach of Hurricane Matthew to the South Carolina coast should occur Saturday into Saturday night.
Due to heavy rain that is expected Friday, a flash flood watch also was issued for counties in northeast South Carolina and southeast North Carolina, with an increased possibility Saturday into Saturday night.
Due to projected rainfall in excess of 10 inches, the flood impact has been increased to extreme across coastal areas.
Those staying in the area should also be on the lookout for storm surge. A watch is in effect for counties northward of South Santee River to Cape Fear, N.C. In Horry and Georgetown counties, surge may be three to six feet above ground level along the ocean front, tidal areas and creeks.
Meanwhile, residents in Zone A in Horry and Georgetown counties were encouraged to evacuate ahead of the storm. Gov. Nikki Haley gave the official order Thursday morning for residents to evacuate beginning at noon Thursday.
Horry County shifted to level one operating conditions at noon Thursday as officials urged the public to heed the governor’s order and evacuate the coastal region.
OPCON 1 means a disaster or emergency situation is in effect.
“It’s time to leave. It’s time to go. If you live in Zone A, there are very vulnerable areas, especially in Garden City, Cherry Grove, and along the swashes,” said Randy Webster, Horry County Emergency Management Director at a media event Thursday. “We don’t need people to be there when this happens.”
It’s time to leave. It’s time to go. If you live in Zone A there are very vulnerable areas, especially in Garden City, Cherry Grove, and along the swashes. We don’t need people to be there when this happens.
Randy Webster, Horry County Emergency Operations Center Director
Officials are concerned about the projected amount of rainfall, possible storm surge and lashing winds, especially coastal regions.
“Our safety is our number one goal. We want safety with the evacuation. We want safety with folks trying to get back in,” Webster said.
No lane reversals on U.S. 501 were in effect Thursday.
“There will not be lane reversals, but the resources are in place should conditions with the storm change,” Webster said.
He also said 300 U.S. National Guardsmen were on the ground assisting local and state law enforcement with traffic.
Businesses within Zone A should also be packing up and shutting down ahead of the storm, and anyone who stays behind to conduct business as usual does so at their own risk, Webster said.
He cautioned that anyone who stays within Zone A, or low-lying, flood prone areas, can likely expect delays in rescue from first responders who could be barred by washed-out roads, raging winds or debris. He also stringently warned against driving through standing water on roadways because hidden depth or structural damage can be life-threatening.
Once the storm lifts, it will be up to local jurisdictions to control access to Zone A, Webster said.
“Our goal after the storm is to get people home, get businesses open, get back to normal as soon as possible, but it will take time to do that, and it will take us time to do it safely,” Webster said.
All American Red Cross shelters in the area are currently open to anyone who chooses to ride out the storm there with Coast RTA pick-up points available for those who need help getting there.