Only hours remain for those hoping to evacuate the Charleston area before Hurricane Matthew reaches the coast. Law enforcement officers are currently making their final rounds, going door to door in flood-prone neighborhoods to ask that residents leave their homes and seek safer ground. Friday morning, Gov. Nikki Haley announced that an estimated 310,000 South Carolinians have evacuated the coast. More than 2,800 are now living in shelters around the state. Of that total, more than 800 are in Charleston County.
Cathy Haynes, chief of operations at the Charleston County Emergency Management Department, said she expected a greater number of residents to relocate to local shelters, but numbers continue to grow.
“It’s been my experience that people do wait to the last minute,” Haynes said. “Then they’ll go find safety and shelter somewhere.”
Tropical storm-force winds are expected to reach the Charleston tri-county area Friday afternoon. Four to eight feet storm surge is expected for the area, as well as 14 inches of rainfall during the storm.
All lanes on I-26 are now back to normal following a the lane-reversal effort that directed all traffic west. As Hurricane Matthew nears the coast, roads in and out of barrier islands will become impassable, trapping all those who remain. Deadly flooding is possible on the Charleston peninsula, and the area can potentially expect widespread and long-lasting power outages.
Across the state, more than 100 medical facilities have been evacuated, but Medical University Hospital in downtown Charleston has no plans to evacuate staff or the approximately 550 patients inside. Hospital representatives say the facility is fully staffed for emergency operations.
A strong police presence is visible throughout Charleston County, as patrols continue. Rumors of burglaries and possible looting began to surface online Thursday evening, but local law enforcement agencies deny any rise in crime. The Mt. Pleasant Police Department has increased patrols in the town to safeguard against potential criminals looking to take advantage of empty homes and businesses. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey says the North Charleston has not experienced any unusual spikes in crime, and the same was said of Charleston.
“We have not seen an uptick in crime,” said Deputy Chief Jerome with the Charleston Police Department. “We want everybody to feel safe. We want everybody to evacuate with the mindset that we are here taking care of the store. We’re guarding the store. We’re here. We want everybody to feel safe that they will find their businesses and homes the same way they left them.”
Due to worsening projections for Hurricane Matthew, curfews have been announced for Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley counties effective Friday evening. The curfew for Charleston and Berkeley counties will begin at midnight and remain in effect until 6 a.m. Saturday morning. Dorchester County will be under curfew beginning at 6 p.m. Friday evening. Those found in violation of the curfews will face 30 days in jail or a healthy fine.