Florence shifts toward South Carolina (5 p.m. update)

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Hurricane may hit state harder than first thought

Hurricane Florence has no intention of giving Lancaster County the brushoff.
An 11 a.m. Wednesday update on the storm from the National Weather Service shows that northern South Carolina will get hit harder than initially thought after two radical overnight shifts in direction.
The massive storm is now expected to travel more westward after colliding with a high-pressure system developing over the northeast United States.  
The storm is now projected to pass through the heart of South Carolina on midday Sunday after weakening into a tropical depression.
Florence is a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, but is expected to regain strength later in the day.
John Quagliariello, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, said Florence will be packing tropical storm-force winds on Thursday and hurricane-force winds on Friday.
The latest report shows the storm is about 485 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and moving at 15 mph after the storm shifted twice overnight.
For Lancaster County, the directional shift means heavier rains with possible flooding and wind gusts between 30 and 40 mph into early next week.
Lancaster County Emergency Management Director Darren Player says that if the current track holds true, there will be a higher risk of tornadoes and an increased rainfall amount for Lancaster County.
“We could see as much as 9 inches of rain. The flooding possibility goes up with that. It’s doing now what some of the European models were saying yesterday. Overnight, everything went haywire,” he said.
The latest track shows the storm weakening as it comes ashore Thursday night somewhere between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the Carolinas coast from Edisto Beach to the North Carolina/Virginia line.
The county should start seeing effects of the storm late Thursday or early Friday as it makes slow progress across the northern part of the Palmetto State.
NWS hydrologist Leonard Vaughan told The State newspaper early Wednesday that the biggest storm dangers this far inland are tornadoes and flooding.
“Significant” tornadic activity, he said, may spawn off of the northeast quadrant of the storm.  
The big worry, Player noted, is what happens late next week in the Palmetto State since the storm has the potential to dump more than 20 inches of rain in North Carolina and Virginia. All that water flows downstream into the state’s rivers.
“The effects of the storm are going to be weeks out. All that water has got to come down somewhere,” Player said. “We could be looking at a two-phase process. The river plain flooding is more of a threat.”
McMaster update
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a Wednesday afternoon briefing the only predictable facet of this storm has been is its unpredictability.
“It seems to change a little here and there making predictions difficult, but with all the information we’re getting from around the world, I can assure you that what we’re telling you is the best information available,” he said.  
On Tuesday, McMaster lifted the mandatory evacuation order for residents in Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties. However, the mandatory evacuation the governor issued Monday for Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties is still in effect.
“If you are in one of the evacuation zones, you need to leave now,” McMaster said.
County, school closings
The Lancaster County School District announced Wednesday that classes will be cancelled Friday since we won’t see any major effects until then.
“Of course, we’ll continue to monitor the storm forecasts and adjust as necessary,” said district superintendent Dr. Jonathan Phipps.
After meeting with local emergency officials Wednesday, Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said all non-essential county services, including the libraries will be open for normal operations on Thursday and until noon Friday. However, there will be no Thursday night programs for county parks and recreation.
“The forecast is for tropical storm-force winds to get here Friday afternoon and we want employees and residents that might be here to get home before those winds hit,” Willis said.  
Recycling sites will be closed Friday and Saturday. County libraries will be closed Saturday.
Willis noted that it’s too soon to tell about next week’s county schedules.
“Who the heck knows? Darren and I will meet to decide on on Sunday after church, presuming that isn’t cancelled. Right now we plan to open as scheduled but if the storm stalls this could certainly change,” he said.
Proactive steps
Lancaster County Public Works crews started a culvert blitz of major county creeks Wednesday morning to make sure they are open and debris-free. The crews are focusing on known 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.
Lake levels
Duke Energy is lowering lake levels by moving water along all river basins in anticipation of the heavy rainfall from the hurricane.
Residents along lakes and rivers, and in other low-lying areas or areas prone to flooding, are urged to monitor weather forecasts, media and local emergency management for changing conditions and rising lake and river levels.  
Despite the updated track, Player doesn’t anticipate having to raise the county’s Op Con level from its current Op Con 4. The county moved to Op Con 4 from its normal Op Con 5 on Monday. At the next step – Op Con 3 – the EOC would be staffed and local officials would be called 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 Energy ramps up
According to a Wednesday release from Duke Energy, the utility provider estimates there could be between one million and three million outages across the Carolinas service area from Hurricane Florence.
And should that happen, power restoration could take weeks.  
More than 6,500 of its Carolinas-based workers will be joined by an additional 2,400 workers from the Midwest and Florida to respond to this storm.
Combined with an 9,000 additional workers from other utilities, Duke Energy will have more than 20,000 people in place to start restoration once it’s safe.
“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. 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,” the release says.  
Cancellations and postponements
• The Lancaster County Parks and Recreation has cancelled all evening indoor and outdoor activities through Sunday ahead of Hurricane Florence. All programs will be suspended Friday since schools classes have been cancelled for the day.
• All Lancaster County recycling sites will be closed Friday and Saturday.
• All Lancaster County Library branches will be closed Saturday.
• The Lancaster County Job Fair set for Sept. 20 is postponed until further notice. However, those interested in applying for county jobs can still so online at www.mylancastersc.org/jobs or by viewing the jobs on the county’s Facebook page by searching Lancaster County Government. Paper applications are available at the human resources office on the main level of the Lancaster County Administration Building, 101 N. Main St., Lancaster, SC 29720 or by emailing jkennington@lancastercountysc.net.

Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story and The Lancaster News will provide updates as they become available.