As Hurricane Florence gains strength and bears down on the Grand Strand, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered evacuations across the area and local officials stressed the need to follow that order.
The storm is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm late Thursday or early Friday. That means it could bring 140 mph winds, flooding rains and other damage to the Myrtle Beach area. Current forecasts show the storm eye’s hitting near the North Carolina-South Carolina state line.
“This is probably the most serious one I can remember,” Horry County Chair Mark Lazarus said of other recent hurricanes. “No loss of life, that is our goal.”
McMaster ordered evacuations of all coastal areas including zones A, B and C in Horry County. Starting today at noon, some of the main roads in and out of the area will turn all lanes to outbound traffic to help with the evacuation. Highway 501 between 544 and 378 will become entirely outbound traffic. Also on Highway 501 from Highway 22 north will funnel traffic towards Florence.
When they created the evacuation zone map, Office of Emergency Management Director Randy Webster said he never believed they would need to evacuate all three areas.
“This is the high end of the worst-case scenario,” he said.
Horry County officials stressed the need for locals to evacuate and said forecasts call for an impact like other famous storms.
“This is going to be remembered with Hugo and Hazel,” Webster said.
Numerous agencies, including Horry County schools and Coastal Carolina University, announced closures as the result of storm’s pending path.
Red Cross shelters are expected to open today at noon. People at the shelter should bring bedding and items to last several days. Pets are not accepted at the shelters.
Locals work to protect businesses, homes
Grand Strand residents spent Monday preparing for the storm, such as Scott Barfield and Glenn Fowble, who worked to secure Free Fall Park on 12th Avenue North. The two used plywood used from Hurricane Matthew to secure the site. They also pulled down the cables from the slingshot and tried to secure a building to the ground.
“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Barfield said of the equipment during a hurricane, then added with a grin, “We will find out.”
On the beach, Lacks Beach Service removed the umbrella storage boxes and Beach Service Company took down the lifeguard stands.
There were long lines and packed parking lots at area stores as people purchased supplies ahead of the storm. Many on social media posted pictures and videos of empty water aisles.
Police officers prepare
Law enforcement officers will be out to help with the evacuations. They will be responding to crimes, and Sheriff Phillip E. Thompson joked that J. Reuben Long Detention Center will remain open. Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill said the storm is not an opportunity to loot. Hill said Horry County Police won’t be out once winds reach 40 mph.
Emergency responders also said they will not respond during the storm or may have difficulty getting to people with an emergency in the immediate aftermath.
Hoping for the best
Horry County officials also discussed re-entry after the storm, which could take days or a week. They said re-entry is not expected like other storms where after 48 hours the Grand Stand is back to normal. Re-entry procedures will be announced at a later date by the Office of Emergency Management.
For those calling the preparation effort overkill, Webster said he hopes they are correct and Hurricane Florence will be like other recent storms that petered out before impacting the Myrtle Beach area.
“I’m afraid it won’t be,” Webster said, “ I’m afraid it will be the other thing.”