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Hurricane Irma: It’s massive

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Local officials breathing a bit easier

By Gregory A. Summers and Hannah Strong

As Hurricane Irma set its sights on South Florida, Lancaster County officials took comfort Friday, Sept. 8, that the storm’s predicted westward shift might spare our county serious damage.  

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But they were still planning for the worst, noting that with three days before the massive storm arrives here, additional course changes are not out of the question.

“We thought yesterday we had a really bad storm that would impact this county severely. That could still occur,” said Lancaster County Fire Rescue Director Darren Player. “Don’t let the westward track lull you into complacency…. We are making plans in case it swings back to the east.”

Player spoke at a Friday afternoon meeting attended by local government, law enforcement, emergency, fire and utility officials.

Even with the center of the Irma expected to hit Georgia instead of South Carolina, Player said nobody thinks the storm will bypass us completely.

Winds gusts of about 40 mph are expected here, he said, along with about 3.5 inches of rainfall, though that rainfall amount could vary. We could see up to 7 inches of rain.  

“If all of that rain doesn’t come at one time, our creeks have the ability to handle it,” Player said. 

On Thursday, President Donald Trump approved South Carolina’s emergency disaster declaration so it can get ready for the storm’s impact. That action authorizes federal assistance and also allows the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts next week.

On its late-Friday track, the eye of Hurricane Irma is projected to make landfall in South Florida on Sunday night before turning northward. The storm will near southern Georgia by Monday morning.

Tornadoes and heavy rainfall are expected as eastern sections of the hurricane make their way over South Carolina.

As of 7 p.m. Friday, Abbeville, Aiken, Anderson, Barnwell, Edgefield, McCormick and Pickens were the only counties in Irma’s “cone of uncertainty,” which tracks the projected path.    

Late Friday, the category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, was moving west/northwest at 14 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended out almost 70 miles from the eye of the storm.

Evacuation shelters

Player said Andrew Jackson High School and Lancaster High School have been selected as standby evacuation shelters should they be needed.

“The thinking there is if we had higher winds, that residents in manufactured housing would be the most at risk,” he said. “Those are the parts of the county with the most manufactured housing.”

Right now, there are no immediate plans to open shelters at either school, based on the predicted weather conditions. Player noted residents should understand that an evacuation shelter is just that. The centers do not provide meals and those who come must bring their own bedding, as well as food. Pets are not allowed at evacuation shelters.

“We don’t have that ability, and it’s a problem for a lot of people because pets are a part of the family,” he said.

The best way to get emergency information for the county is by signing up for “Everbridge Emergency Notification Signup”at www.mylancastersc.org. He said if a shelter is opened, “that’s the best way to get information out.”

Disappearing diesel

One of the areas of concern in the upcoming days here is the availability of diesel fuel. Player said that firefighters in the Kershaw area are already having issues getting diesel for their firetrucks.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said at a Friday afternoon press briefing that traffic is heavy, but moving across the state. He also cautioned against topping off gas tanks every day. Nearly 100,000 vehicles were on the interstates in the last two days, including 65,000 on Friday.

“There’s a lot of stresses on the fuel system,” Player said. “The thing we have to remember is there’s been a lot of evacuation in Florida and there’s going to be a lot in Georgia.”

Lowering lakes

On Friday, Duke Energy was continuing to prepare for significant rainfall in a short time by moving water out of reservoirs and lowering lake levels in the Catawba River Basin to increase reservoir storage capacity.

Rick Jiran, Duke’s vice president of community relations, said flow released from reservoirs would be high before and after Irma passes through.

“Please do not enter turbulent and swift water created by the hurricanes,” Jiran said.

School closings

McMaster said the decision to close public schools Monday will be left up to individual school districts.

Lancaster County School District officials will make a decision Sunday afternoon if school will be canceled. A phone call will go out to parents and guardians if schools close.

Threats to Lancaster County

• Tropical storm-force winds of about 40 mph to arrive Monday.

• An estimated 2 to 4 inches of rainfall Monday and Tuesday.

• Isolated tornadoes are possible Monday and Monday night. The worst winds are expected Monday night.

• Hurricane Irma is expected to be a fast-moving storm when it reaches South Carolina. Wind and rain conditions should drastically improve through Tuesday afternoon.

– Lancaster County Emergency Management

 

Editor’s note: Hurricane Irma is an ongoing situation and updates will be continuously made on www.thelancasternews.com as they become available.