Even as the latest forecasts showed Hurricane Matthew taking a turn to the east and away from the South Carolina coast on Saturday morning, the state remained on alert today.
Gov. Nikki Haley ordered evacuations of Charleston and Beaufort counties at 3 p.m., with evacuations of Horry and Georgetown counties to follow Thursday morning. A time had not been set for those evacuations before the governor’s 6 p.m. news conference today.
“Because the storm changed, we are changing with the storm,” Haley said during a news conference this morning.
Eastbound lanes on Interstate 26 were to be reversed at 3 p.m. today. All lanes on I-26 will be moving westbound from I-526 in Charleston toward I-77 in Columbia, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation. Interstates will function normally northwest of Columbia.
The National Hurricane Center forecast track issued at 11 a.m. showed Matthew turning toward the Atlantic as it approaches Hilton Head Island on Saturday morning. Tropical Storm Nicole, farther out in the Atlantic, is disrupting the currents that had forecasted a closer encounter with the S.C. coast and a possible landfall in Myrtle Beach, Ken Aucoin, chief meteorologist with Richland County’s emergency services division, told The State newspaper.
Forecasters said that, as of now, residents in Columbia and the Midlands should expect about an inch of rain Friday and Saturday with wind gusts up to 35 mph. Heavier rains are likely from Charleston to Hilton Head.
As Matthew approached, schools and government offices closed today in the following counties: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lee, Lexington, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, and Williamsburg.
The University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus was closed today and all classes were canceled. The university said it anticipated being closed Thursday and Friday as well, with only essential personnel to report to campus.
A decision regarding Saturday’s football game at Williams-Brice Stadium against the University of Georgia will be made later this week in consultation with state and local officials, a release from the school said.
Matthew barreled through Haiti Tuesday, and the S.C. coast is still within range of strong winds, storm surges and flooding.
“We are not in stable territory yet,” Haley said. “We’re still kind of moving as the storm moves. We’re still seeing a zig-zag motion going forward.”
More than 300 buses from Greenville County were expected to arrive in Charleston County around noon today to assist with evacuation of residents without cars. Residents can await bus rides at blue hurricane evacuation street signs. Those residents will be transported to shelters throughout the Upstate.
Officials said 110 shelters, capable of housing up to 66,000 residents, are available.
The National Guard has mobilized, and 700 traffic control points have been set up along the interstate. Restrooms and water stations will also be set up.
Haley asked Midlands residents to stay off the roads to lessen congestion as evacuees come through the region on Interstate 26.
Residents in the following evacuation zones should make preparations for a potential evacuation beginning at 3 p.m. today:
Beaufort: Zone A, Entire county
Jasper: A and B
Colleton: A Only
Dorchester: B, D, E and F
Berkeley: A, B, C, G and I
Horry: A only
Georgetown: A only
Information about which evacuation route to use can be found in the 2016 S.C. Hurricane Guide and available via an interactive map at scemd.org/knowyourzone.
Do I have to evacuate?
Haley and county officials said evacuations are no longer classified as mandatory or voluntary. Evacuations are not enforced, but officials urged residents to leave.
“I don’t want to have to sit there and have to talk about any fatalities about anybody that we couldn’t get out,” Haley said. “Our goal is going to be to save everybody that we can. What I will tell those people who are thinking about not leaving, is if you think you can take care of yourself, at least think about my law enforcement and my national guardsmen because they’re going to have to be the ones going out to find you, and you’re putting their lives at stake ... just because you refused to leave.”
What should I do when preparing to evacuate?
- Fill up with fuel as soon as possible.
- Keep road maps, nonperishable food, water, a first aid kit, important documents and prescriptions in the car.
- Inform family of evacuation plans.
- Have a plan for where to stay once you evacuate, such as a hotel, motel, a friend or family’s home, or an American Red Cross shelter as a last resort. Emergency shelters will be announced as soon as they are open.
- Once you are driving on an evacuation route, stay on it.
- Get 100 miles away from the coast.
- Consider a plan for pets. Pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters.
- "Comfort stations" with water, restrooms and law enforcement are planned along evacuation routes.
- Talk to neighbors, particularly elderly neighbors or those without a car, to ensure they have a plan.
Staffers Liz Segrist, Melinda Waldrop and Chuck Crumbo contributed to this report.