COLUMBIA — Thousands of Florence County residents were told Friday morning to leave their homes immediately to escape floodwaters from the rising Lynches River.
Deputies and National Guardsmen went door to door to tell people to get out, said sheriff's spokesman Mike Nunn.
They're finding some of the 860 homes threatened by floodwaters already vacated. Others are refusing to leave, he said. He didn't have a specific number.
About 3,000 people live in the flood zone told to evacuate, located near Effingham between U.S. Highway 301 and the U.S. Highway 52 bridge.
The Lynches River, which runs the length of Florence County, is expected to crest there Saturday afternoon at nearly 18 feet — 4 feet above flood stage — as the rain dumped by Hurricane Florence last weekend continues to flow toward the coast, according to the National Weather Service.
Nunn said the same area flooded after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and a year earlier, when Hurricane Joaquin missed the East Coast but fueled what experts called a “fire hose” of tropical moisture that aimed directly at South Carolina.
The county may issue a second evacuation order for homes that are slightly more elevated later Friday. That would affect an additional 1,890 people in 540 homes, said Florence County Emergency Management spokesman Levi James.
"Every event is different. Even if you didn’t get flooded in 2015 and 2016, who's to say you may get flooded this time," James said, urging people to leave.
Those who don't leave are not only putting themselves in danger but also risking the lives of first responders who may be called to rescue them, he said.
Four emergency shelters — in Johnsonville, Coward, Lake City and the city of Florence — opened at 7 a.m. for the evacuees.
The storm's death toll rose to nine in South Carolina, after a driver was found inside a submerged pickup wrecked Wednesday in Dillon County.
"Don't drive on those roads," Gov. Henry McMaster warned again Friday. "These roads wash out fairly quickly in a big flood. It may appear you can drive right across 100 yards of shallow water and it turns out the road is washed out and you might not be able to get out."
Entire towns have been submerged by the floodwaters. That includes Nichols, near the convergence of the Lumber and Little Pee Dee rivers — two years after rainfall from Hurricane Matthew devastated the tiny town. This time, the flooding was predicted. Officials said the entire town evacuated before it filled up like a bathtub.
One silver lining to the storm's slow crawl across the Carolinas: It allowed experts to predict the water's path, enabling officials to warn residents well in advance to get out, said Department of Natural Resources Director Alvin Taylor.
Taylor warned residents along the Waccamaw River in Conway not to return when the floodwaters appear to hit a high, as there will be two flood stages, possibly 12 hours apart. The water will continue to rise there through early next week.
The river, which flows through the city, is expected to surpass its previous high of 18 feet, recorded after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, by at least 3 feet.