As forecasts showed Hurricane Florence shifting toward South Carolina's coast, some Charleston area residents hatched last-minute plans to evacuate Wednesday as authorities warned that time to leave was running out.
Officials said an estimated 300,000 South Carolinians had fled their homes by Wednesday, following an evacuation order by Gov. Henry McMaster, which affects residents along the coast from Edisto Beach to the North Carolina state line. The evacuation formally began Tuesday afternoon with the reversal of eastbound Interstate 26, between Columbia and Charleston, and U.S. Highway 501 out of Myrtle Beach.
As the storm outlook for South Carolina worsened, Charleston officials urged residents to heed the evacuation order, citing concerns of heavy rainfall and flooding that could persist through the weekend.
"If you live in a low-lying area that has flooded in the past three years, now is the time to evacuate," Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Joey Roberts said. "This may be worse than what we’ve seen before."
The storm is projected to make landfall Saturday near Myrtle Beach, then could drift down the coast as far as Charleston or Savannah over the weekend, so some locals wondered where to safely evacuate.
"Go wherever you’re comfortable, go wherever you’d like to go," whether that's a hotel or a friend or relative's home, McMaster said. "The thing to do is to get away from the storm."
A James Island man who only provided his name as Desbrown said he considered evacuating to Charlotte, where he and his family could stay with relatives, but he said it didn't make sense to drive in the direction of the storm. He said his wife worried about the hurricane's path, but they are choosing to hunker down at home.
Desbrown said his neighbors also planned to stay.
"My community is here, everyone is here, so I'm gonna stay put," he said.
As of 4 p.m., S.C. Department of Transportation traffic counts showed that 21,062 cars and trucks had headed west on the east and westbound lanes of I-26 in the Harleyville area Wednesday, about 45 percent more than the 14,501 vehicles on that stretch during an average day.
Officials said lane reversals will end Thursday. The evacuation process will stop at 6 p.m. on I-26 and noon on U.S. Highway 501.
Along Folly Road on James Island, boarded-up businesses and gas pump nozzles wrapped in yellow "out of service" bags signaled that people were preparing as the storm neared.
At a gas station, James Island resident Donna Tracy stopped to fill her tires before evacuating with her cat to a hotel in Augusta, Georgia.
Following several consecutive days of monitoring unpredictable forecasts, Tracy said her preparation for the hurricane has been “more emotional than anything.” She has vacillated between leaving and riding out the storm.
"It’s hard on your nerves,” she said.
Outside James Island Town Hall, Kerri Hetzler and her two daughters waited for a truck to deliver that location's last pile of sand for sandbags.
Hetzler booked a hotel in Columbia days in advance in preparation for a “just in case scenario.” She said her family planned to load the car up with their two dogs and guinea pig and leave Wednesday.
"We've got trees all around our home so I don't wanna take any chances with that," she said. "And then who knows with the flooding?"