Gov. Henry McMaster lifted evacuation orders Tuesday for Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties, with the exception of Edisto Beach.
McMaster lifted the evacuation orders as projections showed Hurricane Florence moving farther north.
McMaster also moved up the planned lane reversal on Interstate 26 to facilitate evacuations from elsewhere on the coast. That lane reversal went into effect at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Mandatory evacuations for five other counties — Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry — remained in effect, McMaster said at a Tuesday news briefing.
Asked whether additional evacuation orders could be lifted, McMaster said: “Everything is possible. ... This storm — they say, they are telling us — is very unpredictable. Once it gets here, it might stay for a while. It might not leave, which means we’re going to have some flooding. We know that for sure.”
Asked to respond to South Carolinians who say he issued evacuation orders prematurely, McMaster said: “This is a very dangerous hurricane, and we do not want to gamble with a single life of a single South Carolinian.”
The governor stressed Hurricane Florence is still “dangerous and unpredictable,” with a force that could rival Hugo in size and strength.
“We try to operate on the very best and latest information, with precision so as not to inconvenience people when it’s not necessary to do so,” McMaster said. “But, also, to be sure that our people are out of harm’s way and that we’ve exercised all the logistical implications.”
Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., the head of the S.C. National Guard, added it takes 36 to 48 hours to evacuate the coast.
“A storm can make a change in two to three hours that is unpredictable,” Livingston said. “So, as the governor says, we have to err on the side of caution to make sure all of our citizens are safe. And one life is not worth an economic advantage somewhere else. So inconvenience is part of the hurricane response, but so is caution.”
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who was chief of staff to former Gov. Mark Sanford, praised McMaster for altering his evacuation orders as Florence’s path changed.
“(H)e exercised sound judgment at a time when, as I know from my own experience in the governor’s office, many were probably urging him to be overly and unreasonably cautious,” Davis tweeted. “Props, guv.”
Many South Carolinians are evacuating.
McMaster said Monday as many as a million people could leave the coast. With Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties lifted from his evacuation order, that reduces the number to more than 770,000.
Still, the state Transportation Department is seeing three times as much traffic on I-26 as normal because of the evacuation, said transportation head Christy Hall.
Also, McMaster said Tuesday that state offices will reopen on Wednesday in Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Beaufort, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. Schools also were authorized to reopen in those counties, but Beaufort County’s emergency management division said schools in that county will remain closed indefinitely.
South Carolina also will receive federal assistance after President Donald Trump approved a federal emergency declaration for the Palmetto State.
Eastbound lanes on Interstate 26 were reversed Tuesday to facilitate the evacuation from the coast. Lanes on U.S. 501 from Myrtle Beach also were reversed to allow traffic to leave the coast on all lanes of the road.
Both hurricane and storm-surge watches cover the area from Edisto Beach north to the North Carolina-Virginia border, according to a National Hurricane Center statement issued Tuesday. A storm-surge watch means the possibility of “life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland” over the next 48 hours.
The “probable” track of Hurricane Florence continues to show the storm hitting the North Carolina coast sometime Thursday night or early Friday. However, it appears landfall is edging north of Wilmington toward the Outer Banks, according to the National Weather Service.
John Quagliariello from the National Weather Service in Columbia, however, stressed a landfall along the S.C. coast still is possible.
“There is some concern residents in evacuation zones will see the track and think the storm will not pose a threat,” Quagliariello said Tuesday. “But it’s important to remember the impacts of this hurricane will extend far beyond where it makes landfall. Hurricane-force winds, storm-surge inundation, again, are all possible in the watch area.”
Additionally, Hurricane Florence is expected to slow as it approaches the coast, producing significant rainfall, leading to flooding north and south of its track.
“This is a very dangerous storm. It could even be Category 5 by the time it gets here,” McMaster cautioned. “People need to be careful. Better to be safe than sorry” saying South Carolinians need to be on alert. “We don’t know how far the winds and the rain will go.”
Evacuation is mandatory in the counties that remain under move-out orders, McMaster said.
McMaster said no one will be forcibly removed from their homes. Also, those who elect to stay behind are not being asked to sign waiver forms. But, said the governor, “You must go. ... You might be a victim of the hurricane. This evacuation order is based on the very best information we have from professional sources all over the world.”
Kim Stenson, director of the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said about 28 shelters are opening or expected to open soon. Those shelters have the capacity to house about 25,000 people.
Evacuation shelter locations for those evacuating from the state’s northern and central coastal counties are available on scemd.org.
Evacuees should pack required medications, adequate clothing and essential personal items for a potentially prolonged evacuation. Residents also should bring their own blankets, pillows, cots and special food items if they are on restricted diets.
Individuals and families should board pets with veterinarians, kennels or other facilities in nonvulnerable areas. Pets are not allowed inside Red Cross evacuation shelters.
Residents can call the state’s emergency hotline at 866-246-0133 if they have questions about the ongoing preparations for Hurricane Florence.