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McMaster orders coastal evacuation

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Mark Manicone and Gregory A. Summers/The Lancaster News

COLUMBIA – Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the mandatory evacuation of an estimated 1 million people in eight coastal S.C. counties beginning at noon Tuesday as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas.
“We do not want to risk one South Carolina life in this hurricane, so we’re willing to suffer some inconvenience…. This is a very dangerous hurricane,” McMaster said at a Monday afternoon briefing.    
The evacuation order covers some areas of Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry and Jasper counties.
“We’re expecting more wind than we had with Hugo and more water than we had with Matthew,” McMaster said.
Residents and tourists in affected coastal zones, he said, are to begin the mandatory evacuation at noon Tuesday.
At that time, all lanes will be reversed along I-26 from Charleston to Columbia and S.C. 501 from Horry County to S.C. 576 near Marion to allow for northbound traffic only. All lanes will be one-way and headed away from the coast.
“If people will follow the signs and instructions given by law enforcement, it will be very smooth…. We know how to do this,” McMaster said.  
In addition, McMaster said U.S. 278 and U.S. 21 in Beaufort County will be “ready for reversal” if needed.
“We have to clear the roads and get people out of the way so these can come through,” he said.
Early Monday, McMaster ordered the mandatory medical evacuations for 177 health-care facilities in the eight counties. This includes nursing homes and 19 hospitals, as well as five medical facilities that are linked to the state’s prison systems in the eight counties, said DHEC acting Director David Wilson.
“This hurricane is coming…. We know it’s going to hit somewhere to have a dramatic impact on South Carolina,” McMaster said, in anticipation that heavy winds and rain, as well as power outages.

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School closings
The governor also ordered the closing of all schools and non-essential state government offices and services in 26 counties starting Tuesday “until further notice.”
Those counties are Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Beaufort, Barnwell, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lexington, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter and Williamsburg counties. This includes all University of South Carolina campuses in those counties.
McMaster said schools in those counties could be used for evacuation shelters and school buses from those counties used to help in the evacuation process.
“Everybody is on deck,” McMaster said.

Tracking Florence
John Quagliariello, warning-coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, said Monday that Hurricane Florence had grown to a Category 4 storm with winds in excess of 130 mph.
The hurricane continues to show a possible landfall in southeastern North Carolina near Wilmington.
But most of South Carolina’s coast is inside Florence’s cone of uncertainty.
The direct impact of the 500-mile-wide hurricane, he said, will be felt at least 100 miles away from the center of the storm and well inland in flood-prone parts of the state.
Quagliariello said tropical-storm-force winds will begin howling Thursday morning, with Hurricane Florence making landfall Thursday night or early Friday morning. He expects significant flooding across the Pee Dee.
“This could be the first Category 4 storm to make landfall in the Carolinas since Hurricane Hugo,” Quagliariello said, citing the September 1989 storm that hammered the Palmetto State, including Lancaster County.    
McMaster anticipates that the storm surge along the coast could be 10 feet high, along with floodwaters flowing down from North Carolina.    
“We’re in for a real episode here…. We want everybody to be prepared,” he said.
McMaster formally declared a state of emergency Saturday, to allow officials to put hurricane preparations in place as well as coordinate resources. The S.C. National Guard can also be deployed during a state of emergency if necessary.
The state has submitted a request to President Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration to access federal funds and assistance for storm damage.

Local meeting
Local officials met at the Lancaster Emergency Operations Center on Monday afternoon to discuss preparations for Hurricane Florence.
The county has moved to Op Con 4 from their normal Op Con 5, which is a small step in ramping up local preparedness and includes updates. At the next step – Op Con 3 – the EOC would be staffed and local officials would be called to help.
The county does not anticipate having to open any shelters, except to possibly handle overflow from the evacuating residents of other counties, said Darren Player, Lancaster County director of emergency management.
The main concern here is flooding, since the county is south of the predicted main body of the storm. An estimated 10 to 15 inches of rain is expected in parts of the Carolinas.   
Clay Catoe, EMS director, said beginning Thursday, EMS personnel will be placed on extra-long shifts to cover the storm.
Bryan Vaughn, school district safety director, said the district has not made any decisions on closing schools in the upcoming days, but would have an answer on that by Wednesday.
Steve Willis, county administrator, expects county offices may be open Thursday morning, but closed the afternoon and evening, as well as Friday. The county court system will run on the same schedule, said Jeff Hammond, county clerk of court.
The county recycling centers will be open Wednesday to clear trash before the storm. Most of the centers are normally closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Willis said that once the tropical storm force winds hit, it would be unsafe to run the trucks at the landfill.
Duke Energy is expecting widespread power outages and damage as the storm makes its way through the Carolinas. According to a release, the electric company anticipates that total power restoration from a storm of this magnitude could take multiple days to several weeks, depending on the extent of damage and conditions after the storm.
Duke has moved multiple 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 on a desktop computer or mobile device, 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.
County officials said more updates would be given out as the storm draws closer.
To get the latest updates from the state government go to www.SCEMD.com, or download the app from the app store or Google Play store to get the latest information on your phone. You can also get the latest storm information be visiting nhc.noaa.gov.
Also, South Carolina ETV/South Carolina Public Radio and WUFT, Gainesville-Ocala, Fla., announced a partnership today that will provide hurricane, tropical storm and other weather emergency content to people across the state.
Available immediately, listeners to South Carolina Public Radio stations have access to updates related to storms and other significant emergency events, including Hurricane Florence, on radio and social media. To track updates on social media, follow @SCETV and @SCPublicRadio on Twitter and Facebook.    
Please check back with The Lancaster News for the latest updates, as this is a developing story.