Gov. Nikki Haley this morning warned coastal residents now is the time to evacuate as the National Weather Service announced the entire coast of South Carolina is under a hurricane warning.
"This is the last time you will hear my voice asking you to evacuate,” Haley said during an 11 a.m. media briefing at the S.C. Emergency Management Division headquarters in Cayce on the progress of Hurricane Matthew.
By her next briefing at 6 p.m. today, Haley said it will be too late for most coastal residents to head for shelter. “We just wish everyone Godspeed at this point,” Haley said.
As Matthew, a Category 2 storm with winds of more than 100 mph winds, brushed the Florida coast this morning, it appeared the storm’s path had shifted higher along the coast, the Emergency Management Division said on its Twitter account. Current forecasts indicate that the storm could make landfall near the Charleston coast at about 8 a.m. Saturday.
The storm’s high winds, expected to top 75 mph when it reaches South Carolina late tonight or early Saturday, could cause “extensive tree damage” and knock out electricity for a long period, forecasters said. Rainfall totaling 8 to 10 inches along the coast could trigger flash floods. And Matthew’s storm surge of up to 8 feet could top Hurricane Hugo, which pounded South Carolina in 1989.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that President Obama has declared a state of emergency, making federal aid available to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Matthew beginning Tuesday.
Haley reported that about 310,000 of some 500,000 people who live in areas under evacuation orders have left.
The governor added that as of this morning, about 2,300 people are staying in 66 shelters around the state.
One hospital – Beaufort Memorial – has evacuated about 70 patients to hospitals in Aiken, Anderson, Cheraw and Dillon, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety began at 9 a.m. today the process of removing traffic control points on I-26 eastbound from Charleston to Columbia, aiming to resume normal operations on the primary artery of vehicular transportation between the cities.
Authorities said the process began by law enforcement stopping traffic from entering the reversed lanes at I-526 in Charleston.
“Once the traffic control points have been removed and a final check has been performed, all lanes will return to normal operations. This process could take three hours or more,” SCDOT said in a press release.
Westbound I-26 will remain open during this operation, except for intermittent closures, the agency added.