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Lowcountry prepares for storm surges, flooding from Irma

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Army Sgt. Ken Burton with the S.C. National Guard prepares to support aviation operations in advance of Hurricane Irma at the Donaldson Center in Greenville. (Photo/Staff Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine, U.S. Army National Guard)

Updated Saturday, 2:45 p.m.

While Hurricane Irma is now projected to head west across Florida and Georgia, South Carolina’s governor said residents should still prepare themselves for significant impacts from the massive storm.

“We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” Gov. Henry McMaster said during a news conference at 2 p.m. today in Columbia.

Hurricane Irma, now a Category 3 storm with winds around 125 miles per hour, is about 145 miles southeast of Key West, Fla. Florida is preparing for one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the state.

Officials said traffic was moving along interstates 26 and 95 as of Saturday afternoon with no major problems.

Irma likely will weaken as it moves across Georgia on Monday and Tuesday. Officials said South Carolinians should not underestimate the potential impacts the hurricane might have throughout the state as its wind field will expand as it passes to the west.

A storm surge watch is now in effect for areas to the south of the Isle of Palms; a tropical storm watch is in effect from south of the Santee River to north of Edisto Beach; and a hurricane watch is in effect farther south.

John Quagliariello, an official with the National Weather Service, said the greatest concern in low-lying coastal areas is with storm surges, particularly during high tide midday Monday. Residents along the coast should expect 4 to 6 feet of water above normally high ground.

Damage to docks and piers, beach erosion, impacts to barrier islands and flooded roadways are all anticipated. McMaster said coastal residents should attempt to move their cars to higher ground.

Tropical storm-force wind gusts will begin developing Sunday through Monday throughout the state, and hurricane-force winds are possible along the coast. Power outages and heavy rains are expected across the state.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control inspected 51 dams in the state; eight were identified as needing further monitoring as the rain begins.

Evacuations update

Mandatory evacuations officially began in eight barrier islands in Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties at 10 a.m. today.

McMaster said he does not know how many residents heeded the warnings to leave the islands ahead of Hurricane Irma. More than 44,000 residents were affected by the order:

  • 532 in Edisto Beach
  • 468 on Dafuskie Island
  • 743 on Fripp Island
  • 105 on Harbor Island
  • 168 on Hunting Island
  • 42,000 on Hilton Head Island
  • 409 on Knowles Island  
  • 32 on Tullifiny Island

Shelters open now:

Colleton County:

  • Colleton Middle School, 1379 Tuskegee Airmen Drive, Walterboro

Jasper County:

  • Ridgeland High Junior and Elementary School, 250 Jaguar Trail, Ridgeland

Richland County:

  • Dent Middle School, 2721 Decker Blvd., Columbia

Shelters opening at 9 a.m. Sunday:

Beaufort County:

  • Bluffton High School, 12 H.C. McCracken Circle, Bluffton
  • Battery Creek High, 1 Blue Dolphin Drive, Beaufort

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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