Columbia, SC (WLTX) - South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster says evacuations in the state could begin Saturday morning unless the forecast for Hurricane Irma makes a big change.
The governor put hundreds of thousands of people living along the coast on notice: you may need to leave your homes.
"Be prepared," the governor said.
McMaster said thousands of state employees are ready to help with the potential emergency and the evacuation, if ordered.
"We have a lot of people trained to respond," McMaster said.
Here are the key points from Thursday's briefing:
Governor McMaster said if he makes the order for evacuations, they would begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.
He urges people to look up their evacuation routes now, and be ready to follow those routes, not what they may find on Google.
"Follow the evacuation signs," he says.
IMPORTANT: This would be for coastal counties only. These evacuations would not be for the central part of the state, or the Upstate.
While the mandatory evacuations wouldn't begin for a while, McMaster says people who want to leave now can do so.
"If you can leave now, go ahead," McMaster suggested.
McMaster has already ordered an evacuation for 143 medical facilities near the coast. That list includes hospitals, nursing homes, hospitals, assisting living centers, and substance abuse hospitals, among others.
That evacuation of facilities began around 2 p.m. Thursday.
The counties included in that order are Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, Dorchester, Charleston, Berkeley, and Georgetown and Horry
School/State Offices Closings:
McMaster said he's likely going to order that schools in many of the state's 46 counties be closed both Monday (Sept. 11) and Tuesday (Sept 12) due to the storm.
He says the reason some inland counties might close is because of all the traffic that will be coming into those areas from evacuating residents along the coast. Some school buses might also be used in the evacuation.
In conjunction with any mandatory evacuations would be lane reversals. They would also begin Saturday at 10 a.m..
Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia would be reversed so that all lanes would flow westward, much as they did last year for Hurricane Matthew.
About 2,000 SCDOT employees, as well as hundreds of SC Highway Patrol officers, are ready to implement the order.
McMaster said no shelters are open now, but 200 Red Cross facilities are on standby. Many of them will be at local schools.
About 2,900 volunteers and Red Cross employees are prepared to staff those facilities.
SC National Guard Response
The governor said 800 South Carolina National Guard officers are already on duty. By Sunday, that number will rise to 2,500, and by Tuesday, 5,000 will be deployed.
The group will be prepared to assist with rescues and a distribution of resources in the affected areas.
The governor has issued an executive order directing all 2,370 public and private dam owners to look at their water levels and go ahead and lower them safely because of the anticipated rise in water levels.
DHEC is available to assist in assessing water levels at 803-898-1939.