Be ready to evacuate, Myrtle Beach officials said Thursday.
They warned storm surges from Hurricane Irma could reach 10 feet—just two feet below the surge from Hurricane Hugo, one of the worst storms in recent memory.
Gov. Henry McMaster had not mandated an evacuation as of Thursday afternoon, but Myrtle Beach Fire Chief Alvin Payne said, “Even if the storm hits around Charleston or Savannah, we can still get a substantial storm surge.”
“This is a storm of the magnitude that we have not seen in the last 25 years,” Payne added.
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Hugo slammed into the South Carolina coast near Charleston in 1989 as a category 4 storm. Forecasts for Irma on Thursday afternoon pegged it at a 2 or 3 upon landing in the Lowcountry or the Georgia Coast, but impacts from the storm could vary widely for the Grand Strand depending on where the eye crosses onto land.
The entire Myrtle Beach area is included in the National Weather Service’s cone of uncertainty late Thursday, meaning the storm track could shift to a direct hit.
Payne also said that after an evacuation, emergency personnel would be let in first, followed by essential employees of businesses. Residents would be the last to re-enter the area.
Mayor John Rhodes said he expected that any announcement of an evacuation would come on Friday at the earliest.
The city will move to OPCON 3 on Friday, Payne said, meaning more resources would move into place in advance of the storm. A slew of events in the coming week are canceled, including a city council meeting on Sept. 21.
Officials will not go door to door and force people to leave, Payne said, but encouraged residents to go rather than put the lives of emergency responders at risk.
But, Rhodes urged, residents should prepare now.
“We want to make sure our visitors and our citizens will be safe,” he said.