McMaster looks at evacuation routes (copy) (copy)

Gov. Henry McMaster and Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall watch traffic on interstates 20 and 26 as evacuees leave the coast Tuesday afternoon. Eastbound lanes are reversed on I-26, allowing all traffic to flow from Charleston to Columbia. Seanna Adcox/Staff 

Residents of the southern part of South Carolina's coast already were wondering if they should have been subject to Gov. Henry McMaster's evacuation order when they were released from it Tuesday.

The change meant that officials no longer believed a life-threatening storm surge from Hurricane Florence would endanger Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties. 

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said calling off the order will be a "confidence builder" for the residents of the southern end of the state's Lowcountry.

He said several people had called the city, questioning the call made by the governor Monday to subject the entire coast — about 1 million people in all — to an evacuation order. 

"People were challenging it, the necessity to do it, based on what they were watching on the Weather Channel," Keyserling said. "It's a great sigh of relief, and they're pleased they don't have to leave for something they saw as unnecessary."

As of Tuesday night, Florence was forecast to make landfall in the southeastern part of North Carolina, near Wilmington. But there was still uncertainty about exactly where the storm would arrive on land, and forecasters with the National Hurricane Center warned that impacts would extend for hundreds of miles on either side of the eye. 

Before McMaster announced the reversal in an 11 a.m. press conference, the Beaufort area already was outside of the Weather Service's "cone of uncertainty," the zone where the eye is likely to make landfall. 

Hilton Head Mayor David Bennett said some residents there had already left town, and others had determined to stay no matter what. But he said most people had yet to make a decision, so the end of the order came as a big relief. 

"No matter how you slice it, (evacuation is) a huge inconvenience for anyone," Bennett said. 

Lisa Sulka, mayor of Bluffton, risked not being able to get back home when she left town early Tuesday for an appointment. 

"I took the chance and went to Savannah for a haircut, so I'm kind of glad the evacuation was lifted," she said. 

All three mayors said their locals take hurricane threats seriously, and they doubted that this weeks on-and-then-off evacuation order would make them skeptical of future orders. 

Edisto Beach is partially in Colleton County, one of the areas that was released from the order Tuesday. But the town was still expected to evacuate, according to McMaster, who described the state as being in a "very dangerous and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence."

Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby said many people still are waiting to see if the track of the storm track changes. She said she understood the impulse to order an evacuation days early, because removing people from South Carolina's densely-populated coast can take days. 

"The town’s prepared, we’ve done what we need to do, so we’re just waiting on Florence to decide what she’s going to do," she said. 

Darby also said her personal hurricane kit was well-stocked, with "about a week's worth of Coca-Cola."

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.

Chloe Johnson covers the coastal environment and climate change for the Post and Courier. She's always looking for a good excuse to hop on a boat.

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