Red Cross shelter on Leeds Avenue (copy)

Bunks were set up last year at a Red Cross hurricane shelter on Leeds Avenue in North Charleston. This year, in the event of a Category 4 or higher hurricane, Charleston County will send all shelters inland to other counties' shelters. File/Paul Bowers/Staff

If Hurricane Florence makes landfall as a Category 4 or higher storm, Charleston County won't use its own public schools as emergency shelters.

Under new governmental agreements signed this year, if a hurricane hits the coast with winds of 130 miles per hour or more — Category 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale — the county will send all residents to seek emergency shelter in Berkeley, Dorchester or Orangeburg counties.

Charleston County has used local schools as shelters during hurricanes in the past, including in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo slammed the coast as a Category 4 storm and families climbed atop tables inside Lincoln High School's gym to escape rising floodwaters. More recently, the county has used schools farther inland, such as North Charleston High School, as shelters without sustaining major damage or flooding.

But this year, at the request of the Charleston County School District, the county's Building Services Department conducted an engineering assessment of local schools and recommended that they not be used if a storm surpasses Category 3.

"We will, as I understand it, err on the side of caution every time," said County Council Chairman Vic Rawl.

If a tropical storm or a hurricane measures Category 3 or lower, Charleston County has identified schools and other buildings that could house more than 6,400 people. As of Tuesday afternoon, none had been opened.

By noon Tuesday, CARTA began operating a 14-stop emergency circulator bus route on the Charleston peninsula. Buses run on an hourly schedule and will take shelter seekers to county government offices at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston. From there, residents can transfer to other transportation that will take them to an open shelter at Goose Creek High School, which is available to both Berkeley and Charleston county residents.

Shelter seekers are responsible for bringing their own bedding, food, water and other supplies.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Berkeley County had opened other shelters at these locations:

  • Berkeley Middle School, 320 N Live Oak Drive, Moncks Corner
  • Cane Bay High School, 1624 State Road, Summerville: Pet-friendly location. Citizens must stay with their pets and cannot drop them off at the shelter.
  • St. Stephen Elementary, 1053 Russellville Road, St. Stephen

A county spokesperson said some residents began arriving at these shelters around 11 a.m. Tuesday, but plenty of space remained. The county will open additional shelters if needed.

Berkeley County also will have a shelter available for people with special medical needs. If you are in need of this shelter, call the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control for more information at 1-855-472-3432.

Dorchester County opened a pet-friendly shelter Tuesday at noon at DuBose Middle School, 1005 DuBose School Road, Summerville. According to the county website, the shelter will only accept small, crated domestic animals, and at least one family member must remain on the premises. Pet owners must bring all pet supplies, including leashes, vaccination records, food, bowls, sheets or blankets to cover kennels, litter and litter boxes, medication and training pads.

Dorchester County's website also recommends that residents evacuating to a shelter pack minimally, bringing only essentials such as blankets or a sleeping bag, pillows, air mattresses or cots, personal hygiene products, a form of identification, all medications, important documents, a change of clothes, and food and water for a few days.

Additional shelters will be opened at Summerville High School, Woodland High School and St. George Middle School if needed.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.