COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster said he plans on issuing mandatory coastal evacuations starting at 10 a.m. Saturday along with a complete lane reversal of Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia as Hurricane Irma heads toward South Carolina.
Lane reversals also will take place out of Myrtle Beach (U.S. 501), Beaufort (U.S. 21) and Hilton Head Island (U.S. 278) under evacuation orders, state officials said during a news briefing Thursday. The state also will have a few hundred buses available to help evacuate people without transportation.
McMaster is expected to sign the evacuation order Friday, but he shared his plans Thursday to get people ready as soon as possible to the leave vulnerable coastal areas.
Georgia issued mandatory evacuation orders for coastal areas, including Savannah, starting Saturday, while portions of the southern tip of Florida are already under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.
Meanwhile, McMaster signed an executive order Thursday calling for the immediate evacuation of 143 hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities in eight coastal counties. The powerful storm, now at Category 5, is expected to reach South Carolina late Monday.
McMaster signed a second executive order Thursday demanding owners of 2,370 dams release water to accommodate the heavy rain forecast with Hurricane Irma and allowing state regulators to lower water levels dams where owners failed to follow the order.
The state has more than 10,000 dams with about 2,300 regulated by the state. More than 50 dams failed during the historic 2015 flood after some areas of the state received a foot of rain in a day.
Even as a tropical storm inland next week, Irma will have winds fierce enough to cause power outages for days, while rain will be heaviest on the east side of the storm, a forecaster with the National Weather Service said.
South Carolina will have 2,358 law enforcement officers, 2,500 National Guard troops, 200 shelters and 1,200 Department of Transportation maintenance workers ready by Tuesday.
S.C. Adjutant General Bob Livingston said he is preparing for a Category 4 storm, though forecasts say Irma should be weaker than that when it arrives in South Carolina.
South Carolina officials say they are doing their best to keep interstates clear ahead of an expected evacuation. Interstate 95 through the state already has added traffic from Florida evacuees.
State law enforcement officials have asked their counterparts in Georgia to send Peach State evacuees west instead of on I-95. The S.C. Department of Transportation asked contractors Thursday to stop work that blocks highway lanes.