While Hurricane Irma's track has progressively shifted west over the past few days, local emergency and utility officials are urging residents to keep their guard up.

"This is a huge storm," Orangeburg County Emergency Services Director Billy Staley said.

"We are still going to be in areas of wind issues and direct impacts of the storm. We don't know exactly what those impacts will be,” he said.

There’s also a chance the storm could shift back east, meaning conditions would be even worse.

"We are nowhere near out of from under the gun," he said. "We are nowhere near without any impacts."

The county does have a shelter plan, but is awaiting a better understanding of the storm's track before making a decision on opening any shelters. The public will be kept informed of any shelter openings when they occur.

At the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds, charter buses were lined up to be deployed to the coast to help with evacuations for those without transportation. The buses may or may not be sent based on the track of the storm. The charter buses are contracted with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The storm’s impact on the T&D Region could change depending on how far west the storm’s center travels. Friday forecasts had the storm's center passing over Atlanta.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Whitney Smith said rainfall in the area is expected to be about 5 inches to 7 inches if the late Friday evening track holds true.

"Winds of tropical storm force are possible Monday and Monday night, mainly south of Interstate 26 in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) and in the western Midlands," she said. The CSRA includes Bamberg County.

Tropical force winds are between 39 miles per hour and 74 mph. Early forecasts show gusts could reach Hurricane Matthew levels.

"Winds could cause some damage to trees, signs and outbuildings and poorly constructed mobile homes," she said. "Power outages are also still expected."

"Even though the track is a little more to the west, we can still expect impacts to our area of strong winds, heavy rains and isolated to scattered tornadoes," Smith said.

Calhoun County Emergency Services Director Bill Minikiewicz said the county's sheltering situation remained in limbo on Friday afternoon.

"There are too many variables that have not been decided on yet," he said. "We can't open a shelter if they have school because that is where the shelter is. If school is open, there is probably no need for a shelter."

He is hoping to receive more definitive information by Saturday.

"It is tricky," Minikiewicz said about the hurricane, which changed drastically in a 24-hour period.

Calhoun County will make a decision on any shelters by noon on Saturday. If a shelter opens, it will be at the Calhoun County High School in St. Matthews on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Bamberg County Emergency Services Director Brittany Barnwell says the county will open a shelter at noon Sunday at Richard Carroll Elementary School. The school is located at 1980 Main Highway in Bamberg.

Despite the storm’s shift west, Barnwell says “you can never be sure.”

"The thing could take a quick right turn and come into South Carolina," Barnwell said. "Stay prepared and stay ready. Always tune into the local news stations and check for any updates given by local officials."

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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