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Officials ask for patience as hurricane prep continues

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The lane reversal procedure on Interstate 26 eastbound ordered Monday by Gov. Henry McMaster is underway, according to Charleston County emergency officials.

Jason Patno, director of Charleston County’s Emergency Management Department, said at a news conference this morning that local traffic should avoid both I-26 and I-526.

Hurricane Florence forecast as of 11 a.m. Tuesday. (Map/National Hurricane Center)S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the mandatory evacuation order for southern coastal counties this morning, but Edisto Beach, Lowcountry counties and Georgetown and Horry counties remain under the order.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office will be using a helicopter to monitor traffic as people evacuate and to keep the emergency operations center informed, according to spokesman Capt. Roger Antonio.

“The most important thing to remember is to exercise patience through this and to drive carefully,” Antonio said.

Hurricane Florence is currently a Category 4 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center, with tropical storm-force winds up to 150 miles out from the center.

“It’s time to start being prepared and having those emergency kits,” Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, said in a video update this morning. “And I can’t stress enough how important it is, if you live in an evacuation zone, listen to those local officials. They’re going to have all sorts of local instructions.”

The Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center will remain staffed during the storm, said Jim Lake, the center’s director, but residents should call 911 only for an emergency. Residents can contact 911 by calling from any phone, texting from a cell phone or filling out the form at 911HelpMe.com.

“There may be a time during the storm that responders will not be able to go to your emergency due to weather conditions,” Lake said. “If that occurs, when you call 911, we will tell you that they are not able to respond, and then we will call you back to see if you still need their services when they are again able to respond during the storm.”

S.C. National Guard members load gear into a truck in advance of Hurricane Florence. Approximately 1,600 soldiers and airmen have been mobilized to respond to Hurricane Florence. (Photo/Staff Sgt. Erica Knight, 108th Public Affairs Detachment, National Guard)

Capt. John Reed, commander of Coast Guard Sector Charleston, said the Coast Guard has established an emergency management team and is bringing in units from other parts of the country to assist with the aftermath of the hurricane.

“For the boating public, I urge you to take time now and complete your preparations before the arrival of tropical storm-force winds, which could be a day or two before the actual landfall of the storm,” Reed said. “As the weather worsens, your risk goes up, and you will put us as well as yourself at risk if we have to go out and conduct a search and rescue.”

He added that at some point Wednesday, Coast Guard search and rescue responses in South Carolina will be degraded because of the storm.

“We will still be able to respond, but we won’t be at our outlying coastal units,” Reed said. “We will have to respond from inland and place additional risks and burden on the system.”

He also said people should remove locator beacons from their boats so the Coast Guard isn’t chasing false distress signals if the beacon falls off the boat during the storm.

The Coast Guard set Charleston’s port condition at X-ray this morning, meaning sustained winds between 39 and 54 miles per hour are expected to arrive within 48 hours. The port remains open to all commercial and recreational traffic.

The S.C. National Guard has mobilized 1,600 soldiers and airmen to respond to the hurricane.

“We have guard members preparing throughout the state, ready to meet the requests from our partnered agencies and emergency managers,” Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, adjutant general for South Carolina, said in a statement. “We are well-positioned with people, and as needs increase, we will activate additional soldiers and airmen.”

All Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester county schools are closed, and area colleges, including The Citadel, College of Charleston, Charleston Southern University and Trident Technical College, have canceled classes and events until further notice.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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