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Hurricane Michael leaves trail of destruction, power outages

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Updated at 2 p.m. Thursday

As Hurricane Michael cut a fast-moving swath of destruction across the Florida panhandle and parts of south Georgia, thousands of South Carolinians woke Thursday morning to darkness as power outages dotted different parts of the state.

As of 9:45 a.m. Thursday, S.C. Electric & Gas reported 60,784 outages across the state, with 15,272 in Richland County and 8,114 in Lexington County. More than 7,700 customers were without power in Aiken County.

Richland County and city of Columbia offices were closed, as was the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus. The city of Columbia advised residents with non-emergency requests to call a customer care information hotline at 803-545-3300.

Columbia Metropolitan Airport tweeted that it was remaining open but urged passengers to check with specific airlines for flight information.

In the Lowcountry, blustery conditions resulted in wind warnings for commuters using bridges, but Joint Base Charleston and the Port of Charleston remained open with some restrictions.

Several flights at Charleston International Airport have been canceled by airlines, but the airport remains open. Carnival Cruise Line held to a scheduled port of call Thursday morning for the Ecstasy, which could be seen moored at the cruise terminal just after dawn.

Coast Guard crew members at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., prepared equipment and people to conduct assistance and rescue operations after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida coastline Wednesday. (Photo/Lt. Junior Grade Ryan Stille/U.S. Coast Guard)Michael spun up in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm and hit Florida a few days later with 155 mph winds, causing at least one death. The National Hurricane Center predicted Michael, which was downgraded to a tropical storm after crossing into Georgia, would continue across South Carolina, into North Carolina and then go out to sea Friday morning.

S.C. Emergency Management Division director Kim Stinson warned of gusty wind, heavy rain, flash flooding and tornadoes from Michael on Thursday.

“Over the next day, it will be vital for everyone to be prepared to act if told to do so by your local public safety officials,” Stinson said in a news release.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, state agencies began to return to normal operations as the threat of tornadoes and minor flash flooding dissipated. The S.C. Department of Transportation reported 2,000 employees working to clear an estimated 500 trees in roadways across the state, and S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s office said around 92,000 people remained without power.

Many of the 21 open emergency operations centers were expected to close Thursday, McMaster’s office said. The S.C. Department of Social Services said nine shelters were open statewide, with 97 occupants.

At 11 p.m. Wednesday night, the U.S. Coast Guard set port conditions to a 24-hour warning of gale force winds for the maritime community. Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown ports were open with restrictions, the Coast Guard said.

Charleston closed city offices for Thursday. The city’s administration said work crews had pre-positioned pumps and lowered water levels in Colonial and Dotterer lakes in anticipation of possible flooding from the storm. Some low-lying areas also will be barricaded today, the city said, in consideration of possible tidal flooding.

Mount Pleasant’s municipal offices remained open Thursday, but North Charleston and Summerville were closed.

Other venues, schools and businesses were closed across the Lowcountry, including the S.C. Aquarium, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, Trident Technical College, College of Charleston and Charleston Southern University. Classes and all activities at The Citadel also were canceled for Thursday.

More than 73,000 homes and businesses were without power at one point Thursday morning, according to data from SCE&G. Edisto Beach had nearly 3,000 homes without electricity, the utility reported, but the most power outages were in Richland, Lexington and Aiken counties.

Michael is the second major disruption to business in South Carolina from tropical weather this hurricane season. Slow-moving Hurricane Florence in September led to massive, multistate evacuations up and down the East Coast.

Florence came ashore in North Carolina near the S.C. border, raking the coast with wind and rain and causing flooding in both states. South Carolina continues to be under a state of emergency from the effects of Florence, McMaster said Wednesday.

The transportation department reported Tuesday that 49 roads and 24 bridges remain closed or impassable in the northeast part of S.C. from Hurricane Florence.

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