‘If you can leave now, go,’ governor says ahead of expected Irma evacuation order

Digging in for Hurricane Irma

Brandon Miller fills 400 sandbags at the 2nd Avenue Pier in hopes of preventing flooding of the lower sections of the building if Irma makes landfall in Myrtle Beach.
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Brandon Miller fills 400 sandbags at the 2nd Avenue Pier in hopes of preventing flooding of the lower sections of the building if Irma makes landfall in Myrtle Beach.

The latest forecast track for Hurricane Irma shows a westward shift, pushing the massive storm just south of Florida this weekend and then heading inland.

“As far as what we saw come out of the European models, about 80 percent of them take significant hurricane landfall across Florida versus hugging the east coast,” Steven Pfaff, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said.

This being said, South Carolina and the Grand Strand are still in the cone of uncertainty, meaning that Hurricane Irma could shift paths at anytime.

Pfaff did say that the other most likely scenario would be for the storm to turn east, making landfall near the Georgia and South Carolina border.

“Compared to yesterday I’m feeling better for us,” Pfaff said. “We need to be prepared regardless. I’m not saying you need to let your guard down.”

South Carolina has a 30 to 50 percent chance of seeing tropical storm force winds beginning early Monday. Currently there is the potential for dangerous wave and rip currents due to swells from the storm.

As for rain, southern South Carolina will expect to see four to seven inches, and tapering to two to four inches moving north as the storm passes by.

Pfaff said that the Waccammaw River is “not going to rival Matthew” for flooding.

Due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew, which brought about a six foot storm surge to Horry County, there is a chance for increased surge. An exact prediction for storm surge will be released when any watches or warnings are issued.

“What an incredibly vicious storm this is expected to be as it reaches Florida,” Pfaff said.

Although an evacuation has not yet been ordered, Gov. Henry McMaster Thursday afternoon said he anticipates making a mandatory order for evacuations to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“If you can leave now, go ahead, but be prepared,” McMaster said. Officials are reminding the public that evacuations could take more than a day.

“If an evacuation order comes, it would take about 30 hours to get everyone safely away from the coast,” Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said Wednesday night.

When an evacuation order is issued, lane reversals will likely be instituted to keep traffic flowing out of Horry County. The lane reversals will be on two sections of U.S. Highway 501 from S.C. 544 to S.C. 378 and U.S. 501 from S.C. 22 to the U.S. 501/576 split in Marion, according to the Horry County Emergency Management Division.

State officials say vehicular traffic was already getting congested on some South Carolina interstates on Thursday.

Heavy traffic was reported on Interstate 95 at the South Carolina-Georgia border where traffic was reported moving at 15-20 mph Thursday—three days ahead of any impact from Irma in South Carolina.

Officials are urging motorists to plan ahead and be patient in evacuations.

Christy Hall, secretary of the South Carolina Department of Transportation, said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that once mandatory evacuation orders are issued, state residents can call 1-855-GO-SCDOT (855-467-2368) for personalized travel assistance.

Residents needing a lift out of town were also encouraged to contact their local emergency management department to report the need. The Horry County Emergency Management Department can be reached at 843-915-5150.

She’s coming

“The uncertainty of where the (storm’s) turn will occur is still high, so the uncertainty of the impacts to northeast South Carolina and southeast North Carolina are still high,” Pfaff said in an update from the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

The latest track Thursday night reflected a northwestward shift in Irma’s possible route.

“Irma is expected to remain a dangerous hurricane in the vicinity of Florida,” Pfaff said.

Irma was located about 70 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island Thursday afternoon, lumbering towards the southern coast of Florida with 175 mph winds at 16 mph.

Irma is expected to continue on a possible track towards the South Carolina-Georgia line sometime Monday.

Excessive rainfall is likely, especially across South Carolina, Pfaff noted in his release.

“The axis of heaviest rainfall will be very track-dependent thus the potential for flash flooding will exist across all of southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina, with potential significant rises on area rivers,” the release stated.

Northeast South Carolina has received more than normal rainfall over the last 14 days, leaving the ground “nearly saturated in many areas,” Pfaff said.

Emily Weaver: 843-444-1722, @TSNEmily

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic