WEST COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster again on Tuesday urged coastal residents and tourists to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Dorian, stressing that the now Category 2 hurricane could wreak havoc even if it doesn't make landfall on South Carolina's shores.
Leaving is "the only way to be safe," the governor said. "There’s no trouble at all in getting out. There’s plenty of gas and plenty of room to leave. Don’t be sorry. Be safe."
By Tuesday afternoon, the entire coastline was under either a hurricane watch or warning as the slow-moving hurricane finally left the Bahamas, where it stalled for a day and a half. After hitting the Bahamas with winds of up to 185 mph, the storm was moving Tuesday with sustained winds down to a still-dangerous 110 mph.
The hurricane is expected to bring a storm surge on top of higher-than-usual tides in South Carolina, potentially topping 10 feet, plus up to 10 inches of rain, the governor warned. Meteorologists predict major flooding along South Carolina's coast will begin Wednesday morning and continue into Thursday.
"All of this creates the possibility of dramatic flooding in the Lowcountry," McMaster said, adding that even a small shift in the hurricane's predicted path could be disastrous. "This is a very serious storm. A westward shift of just a few miles could bring enormous damage to our state. Heed the warnings."
McMaster's mandatory evacuation orders for 830,000 people in eight coastal counties took effect at noon Monday. Lanes were reversed on Interstate 26 about 90 minutes earlier to allow all traffic from the Charleston area to flow away from the coast.
Late Tuesday, the S.C. Emergency Management Division said that the lane reversals on I-26 will end at noon Wednesday in order for crews to seek shelter at safe locations outside of the storm’s projected path.
The evacuation order covers all of Charleston and Beaufort counties and parts of Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton, Jasper, Georgetown and Horry counties. Detailed information on the zones and the location of emergency shelters can be found on the EMD's website and its free cellphone app.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, an estimated 244,000 people had left the coast. About a third of those traveled on I-26 alone, said Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall.
Her agency estimates that 10 to 15 percent of those who left were tourists, which would mean that about one-fourth of residents under evacuation orders had complied.
State Emergency Management Director Kim Stenson said that's in line with previous evacuation orders.
Just under 60 percent of the 760,000 people ordered to leave before Hurricane Florence struck last September followed those orders.
"We’re heading in the right direction," Stenson said.
Just over 400 people were staying in the 20 emergency shelters open across the state, representing just 3 percent of capacity, according to the state Department of Social Services.
While the evacuation orders are officially mandatory, people who don't leave won't face fines or criminal charges. But if they stay, they could be on their own without a way for emergency crews to get to them.
About 450 state law enforcement officers, as well as 80 military police, are stationed along the coast to protect the property of people who leave, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.
"Individuals who think they're going to take advantage of this situation and harm people's property while they're out will be caught. They'll be arrested and they'll go to jail," he said. "There will be zero tolerance for lawlessness."