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Charleston region braces for Hurricane Florence

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Officials in the Charleston metro region and across the state are preparing for Hurricane Florence to hit the S.C. coast later this week, urging residents to leave as soon as possible.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued a mandatory evacuation order for eight coastal counties, including Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester, on Monday afternoon.

Map as of 5 p.m. Click to view larger. (Image/National Hurricane Center)“Whether this is absolutely necessary or not, we don’t know,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said at a news conference Monday evening. “But I can tell you, you’d rather be safe and evacuate if you think you need to, rather than stay. So we advise you to be prudent about what you do, but be safe.”

Charleston County Council Chairman Victor Rawl said it’s a personal decision to evacuate — law enforcement aren’t going to knock on every door — but he said it’s in everyone’s best interest.

“The bottom line is, if you have risk factors, if you live on the beach and you don’t evacuate, you’re basically inviting suicide, if you want the truth of the matter, especially if this is a Cat 4 or Cat 5,” Rawl said.

Capt. John Manley of the S.C. Highway Patrol said Tuesday morning’s commute would be “nonexistent” as officials prepare to reverse the lanes on Interstate 26 eastbound. Manley said police are going to start moving traffic off the road at 5 a.m. Tuesday, and the lanes will officially reverse at noon, per McMaster’s order.

Manley added that people should stay off of Interstate 526 tomorrow as well, because all exits onto I-26 will lead westbound.

The reversed lanes of I-26 won’t allow for exit until exit 187 in Ridgeville.

“If you do get on the reverted lane, you will not be able to get off until you get to the Ridgeville exit,” Manley said, adding, “If for some reason you miss that exit, the next exit is in Orangeburg, exit 154. So please be aware if you get in the reverted lanes. We ask normal traffic to stay in the normal lanes.”

Manley said that once Hurricane Florence reaches the region, law enforcement won’t be able to respond after the winds reach 39 miles per hour.

“We pull all law enforcement off the road and we will not respond to calls for service,” Manley said. “We will be seeking shelter ourselves.”

No shelters will be open in Charleston County because the schools that typically serve as shelters during a hurricane are able to withstand hurricane forces only up to a Category 3, and Hurricane Florence was a Category 4 as of tonight.

Instead, Berkeley and Dorchester counties have opened reserve shelters to take in Charleston County residents. There will be nine shelters open in the tri-county area.

“Our plan is to utilize Goose Creek High School in Berkeley County — it has the largest capacity — and then start to utilize shelters in Dorchester County, and then Orangeburg County if needed,” said Jason Patno, director of the Charleston County Emergency Management Department.

Dorchester County Council Chairman Jay Byars said residents should go to shelters only if they need to.

“We like to say that those are a life raft, not a cruise boat,” he said. “You need to be prepared to bring in your own provisions, bring your own bedding. It is somewhere that you’re going to have shelter, but it’s not going to be a luxury establishment.”

Starting at noon Tuesday, Charleston County downtown parking garages at Cumberland Street and at King and Queen streets will be open for free parking to citizens who live in flood-prone areas. All city parking garages, excluding the Gaillard Center garage, will also be open for free.

Mike Seekings, chairman of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority board, said CARTA will be operating on a full schedule Tuesday until about noon. CARTA will also activate its hurricane emergency circulator routes starting at noon Tuesday, picking up every 15 minutes and helping people get to a shelter.

“We’re going to run service as long as there are people out there who need help getting in position to adhere to this order,” Seekings said.

“Use your common sense if you’re out there moving around the Lowcountry,” he added. “We’re under an evacuation order. Put yourself in a position to succeed under that order and not to fail.”

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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