As Hurricane Dorian bore down on Charleston, only about a third of those ordered to evacuate had done so by Wednesday morning.

Many locals were reluctant to evacuate for the third time in four years. But some people might be in for an unwelcome surprise.

Forecasts showed Dorian hugging the South Carolina coast and bringing the possibility of record high tides and storm surge. 

On Wednesday, local residents still in town took a collective shrug. There were cars on the road, spectators leaned over the rail at The Battery to watch the 1 p.m. high tide and families were running errands with their children in tow.

Gov. Henry McMaster ordered the evacuation of 830,000 people in eight counties on Sunday. No punishment is in place for not evacuating — only the warning that first responders may not be able to help people who fail to comply.

"We want everyone to leave," McMaster said. "All we can do is give the facts and tell what we believe is coming at the time, which changes hour by hour."

About 155,000 Charleston-area residents had left as of 8 a.m. Wednesday. The evacuation estimates lag somewhat, so compliance figures for McMaster's order could change.

Leaders decided to keep Interstate 26 moving in one direction toward Columbia because traffic out of town was so heavy, extending the lane reversal that has been in effect since Monday by two hours on Wednesday afternoon. 

During Hurricane Florence last year, a little under 60 percent of the 760,000 people under an evacuation order complied.

S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said she expects the percent of people evacuating this year to be comparable.

"Last year's numbers were very, very similar at this point in the evacuation order," Hall said.

Charleston got a first taste of Dorian's effects at about 9 a.m. Wednesday morning as one of the hurricane's tails lashed the coast. The downpour didn't last for long before the storm spun on, giving Charleston a few hours of cool, damp weather. 

On Johns and James islands, a handful of stores were boarded up. Others opted to ride it out.  

The Tienda Mexicana Los Puentes on Johns Island was one of them — the convenience store's front is plastered with Spanish-language advertisements and had a neon "open" sign on. Sitting behind the counter watching a family of four pick out snacks, Victor Esparza was unconcerned. 

"We assume that it's not going to hit us as hard as people think it is," he said. 

The store may close Thursday, depending on winds. As for flooding, Esparza said "we get some." The store, which has been on Maybank Highway for 20 years, isn't in a flood zone

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.


Premature as he said he thinks the governor's evacuation order was, Esparza said he understood it was better to be safe than sorry. That didn't mean he was going anywhere, however. 

McMaster said during a 2 p.m. press conference on Wednesday that time was short to leave the coast. He advised that those who stayed should take cover in a small interior room, brace their doors, secure personal documents and prepare to be without electricity.

"Plan to be stuck there for a while," he said. "It will be dangerous for emergency personnel to come in."

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg during a noon press conference also urged area residents who live in places that flooded during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma to leave. 

That appeared not to be the plan for many locals. 

Jeanine Croft was walking her Yorkshire terrier on Johns Island between rain bands. A former Florida resident, she said she's been through worse storms and the evacuation order came too soon. She said she and her husband wanted to be near their brick home, rather than evacuating. Croft takes a practical approach.

"The next day, you assess the damage and get on with it," she said. 

Hurricanes aren't a joke, she said, and she takes them seriously. The house is prepped, she has an eye on her older neighbors, and all that was left to do was some baking and drinking.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.