County Chief of Operations Cathy Haynes discusses local plans for Irma on Thursday
With 143 inpatient medical facilities along the coast of South Carolina beginning evacuations, Gov. Henry McMaster says that coastal residents could be ordered to leave their homes by Saturday morning as Hurricane Irma nears.
According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Irma remains a Category 5 storm with 175 mile-per-hour winds and is expected to remain a major hurricane prior to making landfall somewhere along the Georgia and Florida coast on Monday. Dangerous storm surge and powerful winds are expected to pose the greatest threat to South Carolina, but rainfall amounts are not expected to reach the levels seen during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the "1,000-year flood" in 2015.
McMaster continues to call for coastal residents in the potential path of the storm to prepare as if the storm will arrive tomorrow. More than 2,300 state and local law enforcement officers will be on duty to handle the evacuation effort. Once an evacuation is ordered, local shelters will begin operations and all eastbound lanes of I-26 will be converted eastbound from Charleston to Columbia.
"We're confident, 99 percent sure, I'd say, that it will take effect at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning," McMaster said of the possible evacuation order.
Following the governor's briefing, emergency officials for the Charleston tricounty area gathered to discuss what plans are expected to be implemented locally to prepare the Lowcountry for Irma.
In preparation for the storm, Charleston County offices, including court offices, will be closed Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.
According to Cathy Haynes, chief of operations with the Charleston County Emergency Management Department, all county shelters, including a pet shelter, will be opened in the case an evacuation is ordered. Shelter locations will be announced at that time. Red Cross officials remind residents that emergency storm shelters do not have cots, so residents are asked to bring anything they can to make themselves as comfortable as possible.
"Charleston County only has five shelters for a major storm. Those shelters will only house 2,500 people total in those five," says Haynes. "That's why you hear me say and have heard me say in the past and will hear me say in the future as long as I'm here, leave early. Go visit family, friends. Don't use that shelter as a first priority. Use it as your last priority."