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‘Storm of a lifetime’

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Days-long crawl across S.C. to bring massive flooding

By Greg Summers and Mark Manicone

Hurricane Florence is expected to slam into the southern N.C. coast this afternoon, then veer southwest and begin a slow, drenching crawl across South Carolina that could last days and cause catastrophic flooding.
Gov. Henry McMaster cautioned residents of central South Carolina to be ready for anything.
“This is a different kind of hurricane, not one that’s going to hit the coast and pass through quickly,” he said. “It’s going to the hit the coast and stay – maybe for two days… right over South Carolina….
“We need to be prepared for the flooding that results.”
Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued tropical-storm and flash-flood watches for Lancaster County.
If the latest prediction holds true, we will see tropical-force winds – from 39 to 73 mph – from 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, accompanied by continuous downpours through Monday morning, said Darren Player, the county’s emergency management director.
Local rainfall projections for the next four days range from 4 to 10 inches as the main body of Florence passes to our south, he said. Statewide, rainfall through Monday could total 40 inches in some areas.
“We hope all our citizens will be safe, attentive to the situation around them and get through this storm with the least amount of difficulty,” Player said. “Property can be replaced. Human lives are precious.”
The National Weather Service this week said Florence would likely be the “storm of a lifetime” for portions of the Carolinas' coast.
The 400-mile-wide storm, which had been gaining strength and moving toward the United States at 17 mph earlier, dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 2 over the past two days and slowed to a 5-mph crawl just before landfall.
According to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update, the storm was roughly 100 miles east/southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and about 155 miles east of Myrtle Beach. It had sustained winds of 110 mph.
Florence’s hurricane-force winds will reach the N.C. coast late Thursday or early Friday, and the center of the storm will make landfall Friday afternoon at the earliest, with a predicted a storm surge of up to 11 feet.
Then the storm was likely to turn southwest and move over Myrtle Beach and into the state’s interior. At its diminished rate of movement, the storm’s center wouldn’t reach Columbia until midday Sunday, then continue to the northwest into Western North Carolina and Virginia by Monday.
“It’s going to be a lot of wind, a lot of rain,” said S.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston at a Thursday afternoon press briefing with McMaster.
He said the danger will persist long after the storm moves away, because the enormous rainfall it drops will have to work its way down both Carolinas’ river systems to the Atlantic Ocean, which will take many days.
 “Just because the rain starts letting up, don’t assume everything’s good and you can go back to your house in some low-lying area and then be surprised by the river coming up,” Livingston said.

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EOC meeting
Lancaster County officials convened at the Emergency Operations Center at 3 p.m. Thursday to review plans for dealing with the storm.
They discussed response details, and the process of locating downed power lines and trees on roadways and houses.
Player said that if sustained winds hit 60 mph, emergency dispatches will be halted until the winds die down, because the safety risk to first responders would be too great. This policy is in effect for all S.C. counties, he said.
At wind speeds of 35 mph, Player said, it is recommended that the high-profile vehicles, such as fire engines, stay parked. But Player said he would leave that up to the individual fire chiefs to determine based on the severity of the call. With 45-mph winds, he said, firefighters will not be allowed to use the bigger vehicles.
EMS Director Clay Catoe said the county’s QRVs (Quick Response Vehicles) are equipped with chainsaws to cut their way to a patient if necessary, so as to not tie up other first responders.

Shelter to open
Buford High School will be used as an evacuation shelter starting at 2 p.m. today. Red Cross volunteers will staff the shelter.
The shelter will have minimal supplies and only a small number of cots. It is expected to be open only 24 to 48 hours.
Evacuees are encouraged to bring their own pillows and blankets, any special-diet foods or medications they need, and toys for kids. Meals will include military MREs and cafeteria food. No weapons are allowed.
If other shelters are needed in the county, they will be announced when they open. Player said they will be not be announced in advance because some people will misunderstand and immediately go to that shelter.
So far, 61 shelters have opened across the state, including 12 designated for evacuees with special medical needs.
White Oak Manor of Lancaster is housing 21 residents who arrived earlier this week from White Oak of Charleston. They moved inland when McMaster ordered the evacuation of five coastal counties.  
Twenty-five patients evacuated from Sandpiper Nursing Home in Mount Pleasant are staying at Springs Memorial Hospital.

Proactive steps
Lancaster County Public Works crews started a culvert blitz of major county creeks on Wednesday to make sure they are open and debris-free. The crews focused on low-lying areas along county-maintained roads that usually flood. 
“We want to make sure they are flowing properly to minimize issues, but recognize that heavy rain over a short time period can overwhelm any structure,” said County Administrator Steve Willis.
The county is also cautioning motorists not to drive through flowing water. It only takes 6 inches of moving water to sweep you off your feet, and a foot of water to move a vehicle.

Other precautions
Duke Energy is lowering lake levels by moving water along the Catawba river basin in anticipation of the heavy rainfall from the hurricane.
Duke urged residents along lakes and rivers – and in other areas prone to flooding – to monitor weather forecasts, media and local emergency management for changing conditions. 
The S.C. Forestry Commission has issued a statewide burning ban until further notice.
SCFC Fire Chief Darryl Jones said many people wouldn’t expect the ban with much of the state on the verge of getting drenched by a hurricane. The ban, however, has nothing to do with fire danger.
“Many firefighting and emergency personnel and resources are committed to hurricane-related response,” he said.
Player doesn’t anticipate having to raise the county’s emergency level from its current Op Con 4. The county moved up a notch from its normal Op Con 5 on Monday. At Op Con 3, the Emergency Operations Center would be staffed and local officials would be called in to help.
But just like Florence’s path, that could change.
“Everything is so fluid, I’m wary to put out any more info,” Player said. “This storm is taking a track that no other storm has taken in recorded history. At least, that’s what the people say who make a living on this.”

Duke ramps up
Duke Energy estimates there could be between 1 million and 3 million outages across its Carolinas service area as Florence moves through.
Restoring power to everyone might take weeks, the utility said. Duke has more than 20,000 people in place to start power restoration once it’s safe. This includes 6,500 workers from the Carolinas and 2,400 from the Midwest and Florida, as well as 9,000 additional workers from other power companies.
“We will have enough crews in the Carolinas to restore power, but restoration cannot begin until the storm has passed and our workers can safely access impacted communities,” the company said in a release.
“Restoration efforts will be further delayed if the storm stalls, which could result in significant flooding, limiting access to power equipment and additional structural damage.”