S.C. Governor declares state of emergency as Hurricane Irma’s forecast path shifts

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Wednesday by executive order ahead of Hurricane Irma’s possible arrival.

The order lets all state agencies coordinate resources in preparation for Hurricane Irma. The storm is currently a Category 5, the strongest, but he said Irma could possibly downgrade if she makes her way to the Palmetto State.

McMaster urged residents to prepare for a storm that could be comparable to Hurricane Hugo, which struck the S.C. coast in 1989.

He said while uncertainty still remains with the storm and her path, now is the time for people to prepare in case the hurricane hits.

His main message to the public was: “You could not have a better more, prepared, more professional team and network around the state than we have. We are prepared. … What we cannot do is make the citizens prepare, so what we are urging you to do, all citizens, is get prepared. Just assume or pretend that a Category 3 hurricane is arriving tomorrow morning, and do what you would do then now.”

A Wednesday update from the National Weather Service states, “While a turn to the north is looking more and more likely by later this weekend, the uncertainty with the track and subsequent impacts, remains high, especially for the Carolinas.”

Horry County shifted their Operating Conditions level to 4 at noon on Wednesday to prepare for possible impacts. Georgetown County also shifted their OPCON level to 4 at noon on Wednesday.

At Level 4, the county is on “alert” status with officials having begun discussions with state emergency management officials and coastal communities and will continue to keep a close eye on the storm, according to a release from Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.

“The Horry County Emergency Operations Center is not currently activated, however Horry County Emergency Management will continue to keep the public aware of changes in the forecast and appropriate action will be taken as necessary,” the release states.

Horry County Emergency Management officials also reminded the public that waiting for a watch or warning is too late, and that preparation should begin now.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, the eye of the storm was located near Puerto Rico and is moving west-northwest. Hurricane Irma is expected to pass just north of Puerto Rico tonight and will be near southeastern Bahamas by Thursday night.

Winds are near 185 mph with even higher gusts, and remain a Category 5 hurricane, and is expected to remain a “powerful Category 4 or 5 hurricane during the next couple of days,” the release states.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 50 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend up to 185 miles.

With a northward movement, the Carolinas have a chance of seeing tropical storm force winds. The storm is expected to hit Florida between Saturday and Sunday.

The impacts from surge, rainfall, wind and tornados are unclear at this point. But dangerous surf and rip currents are expected through the weekend.

“There is still uncertainty in the forecast and a 50 or 100 mile shift in the forecast could change the impact in your area,” the release states.

Members of the state Emergency Response Team will start reviewing plans and notifying response staff if needed, according to the release.

The announcement follows a new forecast update from the National Hurricane Center showing Irma’s track could make a bee-line for the South Carolina coast.

A graphic released by the NHC at 11 a.m. Wednesday shows the hurricane’s possible cone leaving the Sunshine State and spinning in the ocean before potentially smacking into the Carolinas.

However, the exact track of the storm is still uncertain and subject to change.

On Wednesday the dangerous core of Hurricane Irma was closing in on the Virgin Islands, moving at 16 miles per hour with 185 mph-force winds, according to forecasters.

“Direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and rainfall are possible in the Florida Keys and portions of the Florida peninsula, beginning later this week and weekend,” NHC forecasters said.

The agency warns it’s still too early to know the exact location and level of impacts.

Officials offered the following storm prep tips and information:

  • Surveying your property to mitigate potential flooding, such as making sure storm drains and gutters are clear of debris.
  • Having family hurricane plans in place.
  • Ensuring family emergency/hurricane kits are ready; including items like water, batteries, flashlights, etc.
  • Continually monitoring reputable weather information sources such as local media or the National Hurricane Center for the most up to date hurricane information.
  • Keeping vehicles fueled up and serviced.
  • Being sure that you Know Your Zone! Go to Horry County’s website at http://www.horrycounty.org/Departments/EmergencyManagement/Hurricanes/KnowYourZone
  • to find your zone.
  • Knowing where you will evacuate if asked to.
  • Making plans for pets.

For more information on hurricanes and prep tips, visit the county’s website, follow social media, and/or click here: Horry County’s website at www.horrycounty.org, Horry County Emergency Management Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/horrycountyemergencymanagementdepartment, Horry County Emergency Management Twitter: https://twitter.com/HorryEMD.

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic