Important things to know about evacuating the Grand Strand

Emergency officials say evacuations in Myrtle Beach will be called if Hurricane Irma causes a significant storm surge, which can occur even if the massive system moves up through the state instead of making landfall on the South Carolina coast.

Forecasting the storm’s track is still in flux, but one thing is for certain, it will turn north once it nears Florida later this week, said Randy Webster, who leads the emergency management team for Horry County.

Hurricane Irma was still a Category 5 storm on Wednesday after it ripped through the Caribbean Islands, packing winds of 185 mph as it barreled down on Puerto Rico.

“It will be degrading over land, but it’s so big it could still push a lot of ocean water towards our coast,” Webster said.

“So even though it’s over land, there could be a possibility of storm surge,” Webster said.

If the surge poses a danger to Grand Strand residents living close to the coastline, an evacuation could be called for as early as this weekend.

Evacuations are not called for in cases of high winds or flooding in low-lying areas. The decision to evacuate would be made by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, who on Wednesday declared a state of emergency.

But, the governor’s decision would be made with input from local officials in Horry County, Webster said.

“So it’s not just him sitting in Columbia and not knowing what’s going on along the coast. There’s a lot of effort in that decision,” Webster said.

Grand Strand evacuations are conducted in three zones that stretch from Garden City to Little River. Only one area, Zone A, was evacuated for Hurricane Matthew.

Evacuation areas for Zone A includes all areas east of U.S. Business 17 up to the intersection with US 17 and all areas east of U.S. 17 to the northern county line.

Zone B includes areas south of Highway 707 and Longwood Drive; all areas in Longwood Plantation to the Waccamaw River; all areas east of US 17 Bypass to US 17; and, all areas east of US 17 to the northern county line.

Zone C includes areas between U.S. 701 and S.C. 544; south of Brown's Chapel Avenue and S.C. 814; all areas east of Highway 31 (Carolina Bays Parkway) to Highway 90; and, all areas east of Highway 90 to US 7 to the northern county line.

Even if no mandatory evacuation is declared, Webster said locals should use their own judgment as to whether they should ride out the storm in another city or state, especially if they live in flood-prone neighborhoods or in homes that might not withstand tropical force winds.

If Gov. McMaster calls for an evacuation before the storm, the Red Cross would then open shelters at local schools. If no evacuation occurs, but significant storm damage occurs in the county, shelters would open after the storm at area churches.

A listing of potential shelters has not yet been released by county officials.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson