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McMaster: ‘A very deadly game of chess’

By Greg Summers and Mark Manicone

Lancaster County expects tropical-storm-force gusts to arrive here about noon Thursday as Hurricane Florence nears a devastating landfall on the Carolinas coast, but that forecast could worsen if the storm’s track shifts even slightly southward.
Wind is expected to be the main culprit here, as rainfall in the county from Thursday through Monday is expected to total just 2 to 4 inches.
All of that depends on the massive, 500-mile-wide Category 4 storm staying on its current path. It is expected to make landfall about 2 a.m. Friday.
The National Weather Service issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for central and northern South Carolina coastline and entire North Carolina coastline just before 5 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s like a tug of war, and the forecast is changing almost hourly,” said Lancaster County Fire Rescue Director Darren Player.
Local officials met at the Lancaster Emergency Operations Center on Monday afternoon to discuss preparations for  Florence.
On Tuesday afternoon, National Weather Service forecasters were projecting that the storm would make landfall between northern South Carolina and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
However, the European model has the storm coming ashore at the S.C.-N.C. border and making a slow, three-day trek across the northern part of the Palmetto State.
The European path, Player said, puts Lancaster County in the dangerous and unstable northwest quadrant that increases the likelihood of tornadoes and higher winds.
“We don’t want it to slow down or stall,” he said. “That could be big trouble for us.”
A high-pressure system that’s over the mid-Atlantic, Player said, is keep Hurricane Florence from turning northward.
The National Hurricane Center is estimating that the storm could linger over the Carolinas, dumping 15 to 20 inches of rain – up to 30 inches in isolated areas.
Player said the big issue in Lancaster County will be flooding if multiple inches of rain falls in a short period.
Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said at Monday night’s county council meeting that the county could shut down non-essential services Thursday afternoon once sustained wind speeds top 25 mph.
“We’ll have to make that call a little closer,” Willis said.

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Public schools
The Lancaster County School District had not made any decisions regarding school closings as of press time Tuesday.
Bryan Vaughn, district safety director, said that call will be made Wednesday.
The safety issue for the schools on Thursday and Friday will be high winds more than pelting rains. Because the buses are tall vehicles, they do not handle high winds well. State guidelines say buses should not be operated in 30-mph sustained winds with gusts of 40 mph.
Tropical-storm winds range from 39 to 73 mph.  
Vaughn said that one high school has already been designated as a shelter location, but will not be open as a shelter unless the state deems it necessary.
Shelters will be announced as they open on an as-needed basis. Player said there is a danger of announcing too soon when and where a Red Cross-staffed shelter will open, because people will misunderstand and go there before it opens.

McMaster update
Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the evacuation order for Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties, with the exception of Edisto Beach, as projections showed the storm was tracking in a more northward path.
The mandatory evacuation the governor issued Monday for Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties was still in effect. The evacuation zones impact more than 1 million people along the coast.
“It’s an unpredictable storm, so we must be vigilant. We’re in a very deadly and important game of chess…. We’re staying one step ahead,” McMaster said.  
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, all lanes along I-26 from Charleston to Columbia were reversed.
At noon Tuesday, all lanes were reversed along S.C. 501 from Horry County to S.C. 576 near Marion to allow for northbound traffic only. All lanes on both highways were one-way and headed away from the coast.
Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston of the S.C. National Guard said it takes 36 to 48 hours to evacuate the coast, where “a storm can make a change in two to three hours that is unpredictable.”

Latest forecast
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center reported that Florence’s top winds had increased to a “conservative” 140 mph. It was tracking west-northwest at 17 mph, and about 785 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C.
Winds are expected to hit 155 mph at peak intensity, which is just 2 mph from a Category 5 storm. Heavy surf and elevated water levels are expected to arrive along the Carolina coasts this morning, with tropical-force winds blowing tonight. The storm surge is expected to be more than 12 feet.  

Power outages
Duke Energy is expecting widespread power outages and damage as the storm makes its way through the Carolinas. The company anticipates that total power restoration from a storm of this magnitude could take from several days to several weeks.
Duke has moved power crews from Indiana, Kentucky, Florida and Ohio to help with power restoration after the storm.
If an outage occurs during the storm, you can report it, or any power-line hazards, to Duke Energy by visiting duke-energy.com, texting OUT to 57801 or calling the automated outage-reporting system at (800) 769-3766 for Duke Energy Carolinas customers and (800) 419-6356 for Duke Energy Progress customers.

Football games moved up
All four high school football games will be played tonight.
◆ Lancaster at Chester – 6:30 p.m.
◆ Indian Land at Nation Ford – 6:30 p.m.
◆ Andrew Jackson at North Central – 7 p.m.
◆ Chesterfield at Buford – 7:30 p.m.
Other schedule changes
◆ The Moriah Baptist Association has canceled its Senior Adult Fall Festival scheduled for Thursday. It will be rescheduled later.
◆ The Moriah Baptist Association has canceled its singles breakfast this Saturday. It will be rescheduled later.
◆ The Archie Parnell for Congress Campaign Fish Fry scheduled for Thursday has been canceled and will be rescheduled later.
◆ The Community Engagement Corps is rescheduling Monday’s Community Conversation for Sept. 24. The location and time will remain the same.