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For some in Charleston, evacuating for Florence is a privilege they just can't afford

Making it work

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As evening fell on the heart of the Charleston peninsula on Wednesday, the typical rush hour bustle was replaced by a handful of cars cruising through deserted intersections.

The familiar crossroads at Calhoun and King streets — where hotels and national chains normally overlook tourists, residents, and students coming and going from College of Charleston — resembled the empty set of a Western film as shops closed early, sandbags rested against doors, and residents worked their way inland to avoid the worst of Hurricane Florence.
On Wednesday at 6:03 p.m., the National Weather Service reported that the Category 3 storm with winds of 120 miles per hour was 450 miles away from the Charleston coast. Coastal areas of Charleston County remained under a Hurricane Watch, with local experts most concerned about heavy rains and flooding once Florence eventually approaches the area.

Gov. Henry McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation of Charleston along with Berkeley and Dorchester counties on Monday morning, and at a press conference Wednesday, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg continued to urge residents to heed the governor's warnings and find refuge elsewhere.

"It’s going to be a lousy weekend here, and it’s going to be a good weekend to be somewhere else," he said.

But for some, evacuating is a privilege they just can't afford.


Some hourly workers, professionals, and those who simply can't drive for hours or spend hundreds on hotel rooms have resolved to ride out the storm in their homes. Along with more than 10 million others on storm warnings or watches in the Carolinas and Virginia, they will hope for the best as the first signs of the hurricane are felt Thursday morning.

"I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck, and especially since the majority of my check just went to rent, I have enough money to ride out the storm, but I’m not ready to spend even $40 to $50 a night for a hotel," said Harry Shinn, a cook at Woody's Pizza on Folly Beach just south of Charleston.

Shinn lives two blocks from the Atlantic, but says his car is only good enough for the five blocks it takes to get to and from work. There is a chance his vehicle would not survive the high speeds on I-26 heading to Columbia.

"I kind of believe I still don’t know what’s gonna happen until it gets closer, probably tomorrow," he said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

Shinn's roommate has already left for Florida. If the storm gets any worse, he says he's likely to drive a couple miles north to his friend's house on James Island, where he rode out Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Many King Street stores were finishing Florence prep on Wednesday - SAM SPENCE
  • Sam Spence
  • Many King Street stores were finishing Florence prep on Wednesday
Rebecca Riley, on the other hand, doesn't have as many options.

Her ailing parents live in Greenville, and her ex-husband is currently driving the car they once shared.

"It wasn’t even until this morning that I was able, in good conscience, to close my store," said Riley, who manages the Lulu Burgess boutique on King Street. "My entire staff are college girls, so they immediately evacuated. I was the only person left to close things down and shutter the windows and all that."

The Wagener Terrace resident and proud Vespa owner lives with two roommates who have already evacuated to the Upstate of South Carolina.

"One of the other reasons why I’m super hesitant to go is that I feel like my Vespa is here and it’ll be stolen or flooded out," she admits. "That's my biggest concern because that is my transportation."

Some are crossing their fingers that the storm isn't that bad, but have already made plans to ditch town last minute if things look like they're heading south — literally.

"I do have a reservation in Augusta, Ga. in a hotel just in case," said Mt. Pleasant resident and accountant Virginie Murphy. "This past weekend I was in Florence for a state tennis championship and I tried to get a room Sunday before I left, but they were all sold out already."


That safety net is one that Poogan's Porch server Portia Koski does not have. Because her Queen Street workplace closed for renovations for a few days last month, she says that evacuating before it is absolutely necessary would be too hurtful to her bottom line.

"We’re just getting over being out of work for one week, and now we’re going to be out of work for another week," she said.

The West Ashley resident drives a 1999 Nissan Quest that she says would be too "impractical" to drive outside of county limits. She laughed when she heard McMaster's "premature" evacuation order on Monday.

"I have very little family," she said. "My family’s all passed away. My brother lives in Germany, and that’s far to go."

As it turns out, those who choose to brace Florence's furious winds and torrential rains won't be alone.

"Mayor Tecklenburg plans to ride out the storm in the Municipal Emergency Operations Center with the rest of the city’s emergency response team," according to Charleston city spokesperson Cameron Wolfsen.


Information on local emergency shelters can be found at SCEMD.org.

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