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Irma’s path shifts west

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Threat to S.C. lessens, but may change again

By Gregory A. Summers

The predicted path of Hurricane Irma shifted slightly west Thursday evening, Sept. 7, putting Georgia in the crosshairs for a Monday battering, rather than South Carolina.
Lancaster County could still get a wallop, local officials said, but it might be spared the hurricane-force winds that had been expected from earlier predictions.
“It still means tropical-force winds for us, but we won’t see hurricane-force winds with the eye shifting to the west…,” said county Fire Rescue Director Darren Player. “The only thing that could be better is if it moves out to sea.”
But there is still much uncertainty, he said, with the storm still days away.
“Everyone needs to keep in mind that it’s only a prediction, and a prediction can change without notice,” Player said.
State and local officials are preparing for the worst, just in case.
“Irma is one of the most powerful storms we’ve seen in the Atlantic since we started keeping records,” said Duke Energy lead meteorologist Steve Leyton.
“While the track of the storm could still change in the coming days, it is important for people who live in its potential path to make plans now and prepare their homes and families,” Leyton said.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said during a 2 p.m. Thursday briefing he has already ordered the mandatory evacuation of 143 health-care facilities in eight coastal counties. Impacted counties include Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, Dorchester, Charleston, Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry.
Several groups, including a group of 49 residents from White Oak Manor in Charleston, were sheltered in Lancaster last year during Hurricane Matthew.
McMaster also plans to issue mandatory coastal evacuations starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, along with a complete lane reversal of I-26 from Charleston to Columbia.
Lane reversals also will likely take place on U.S. 501 out of Myrtle Beach, U.S. 21 out of Beaufort and U.S. 278 out of Hilton Head Island. McMaster said the order will be issued sometime today.
However, the specific coastal counties impacted by the evacuation won’t be known until a more precise storm track is plotted.
“Now is the time to prepare,” McMaster said Wednesday, noting that if a mandatory order of evacuation is issued by official sources for the state’s coastal counties, it must be obeyed.
“When we say go, it’s time to go,” McMaster said.
McMaster also signed a second executive order Thursday demanding owners of 2,370 dams release water to accommodate the heavy rains expected with Hurricane Irma.
The state has more than 10,000 dams, with about a quarter of them regulated by the state.
Duke Energy has already started dropping water out of its reservoirs and lowering lake levels along the Catawba-Wateree River basin, said Rick Jiran, Duke Energy vice president of community relations.
Player said portions of the state could get drenched by up to 10 inches of rain between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Locally, somewhere between 4 and 6 inches of rainfall is possible.
“It’s going to be fast-moving, so nobody is expecting a 50- inch level of rainfall as with Hurricane Harvey” in Texas, Player said.
Storm’s path     
At 2 p.m. Thursday, the National Hurricane Center reported that the category 5 storm, with winds in excess of 170 mph, was churning off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and heading west-northwest at 16 mph.
The storm is expected to turn north, tracking into Florida and making landfall along the Georgia coast. The more time it spends over Florida, the more strength the storm will lose.
S.C. Adjutant General Bob Livingston said Thursday that the National Guard was preparing for a category 4 storm, though forecasts say Irma should be weaker than that.
The state will have 2,300 law enforcement officers, 2,500 National Guard troops, 200 shelters and 1,200 S.C. Department of Transportation maintenance workers ready by Tuesday.
Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricanes in history, has set another record. The National Weather Service reported Thursday that the storm had sustained maximum wind speeds of 185 mph for more than 24 hours. It’s the only Atlantic hurricane to sustain that powerful wind speed for so long.
The National Weather Service said a hurricane of this magnitude has not been seen since 1928, when Hurricane San Felipe killed more than 2,500 people.
Player said parts of the state are expected to start feeling tropical storm-force winds late Sunday and Monday.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” Player said.
Local officials meet
Local police, fire, EMS and public works officials met at the county’s Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday to be updated on Hurricane Irma.
This week, Player and other emergency workers across the state have participated in multiple conference calls with the S.C. Emergency Management, as well as National Weather Service webinars.
They will meet again at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Lancaster County Emergency Medical Services Director Clay Catoe said his department started storm prep Tuesday by preordering medical supplies.
“Because we get a lot of our supplies out of Florida, and even if it doesn’t hit us right away, it’s going to disrupt our supply chain,” Catoe said. “We already keep a large supply … but I’ve already started ordering more so that if their operations get disrupted, we can survive for 30 days without ordering.”
Catoe said his crews are also testing little-used equipment such as chainsaws and generators and making arrangements with volunteer fire stations so medics can plug in ambulances, which rely on rechargeable equipment.
There are other concerns as well, like feeding crews for several days straight in case of an extended response, Catoe said, and setting up safe locations for the families of on-duty employees with children since daycares and schools would be closed.
Closings possible
McMaster said government offices and schools could be closed Monday and Tuesday in some or all 46 S.C. counties.
Lancaster County has already canceled two meetings set for Tuesday. There is also a possibility that Monday night’s scheduled County Council meeting may get bumped to later in the week.
Lancaster County School District officials are also closely monitoring the storm as it approaches the state.
Safety and Transportation Director Brian Vaughn said plans are being crafted for various scenarios that might play out in the upcoming days based on the weather.
“If this forecast holds true through the weekend, we are looking at a possible cancellation of school on Monday going forward depending on damage estimates, power outages, flooding and shelter use at our schools,” Vaughn said.

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County emergency notifications
To receive Lancaster County emergency notifications, visit www.mylancastersc.org and click the red link on the left side of the page that reads “Everbridge Emergency Notification Signup” or call Veronica Mayfield at (803) 285-4488.
The county also provides a blue “Alert Notification” form that allows emergency workers to help citizens in emergency situations.
Emergency contact information, gate code information and spare-key locations can be documented on the form.
Providing this information beforehand can help emergency personnel enter a residence without having to destroy property to gain access.
The blue form is not online, but may be picked up at the county’s public safety office, 1941 Pageland Highway, Lancaster, or sent via email. The form must be signed and turned in to the public safety office or mailed to P.O. Box 1809, Lancaster, SC 29721.

Editor’s note: Hurricane Irma is an ongoing situation and updates will be continuously made on www.thelancasternews.com as they become available.  
 
Reporter Reece Murphy contributed to this story.      

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.