South Carolina has been down this road before – literally.
Gov. Nikki Haley went proactive on Tuesday as the state was put on emergency status in the wake of a changing forecast involving Hurricane Matthew. The storm is now forecast to make landfall somewhere along the state’s coast this weekend.
Haley asked residents to prepare for a potential evacuation of the South Carolina coast in advance of any impact from the storm. She is to announce at 9 a.m. Wednesday whether evacuation is to be mandatory.
If evacuation is ordered, it will begin effective at 3 p.m. Based on what was known Tuesday, the evacuation would affect all of Beaufort County and the eastern portions of Jasper (Zones A and B), Colleton (Zone A), Charleston (A,B,C) Dorchester (B,D,E,F), Berkeley (A,B,C,G,I), Horry (A) and Georgetown (A). Information on the zones is detailed in the 2016 S.C. Hurricane Guide and is available via in interactive map at scemd.org/knowyourzone.
If the evacuation comes, which appeared likely Tuesday evening, it will set into motion lane reversals from coastal areas to expedite the process.
• Charleston to Columbia – A full, four-lane reversal on I-26 in Charleston begins at the interchange of I-26 and I-526. The reversal continues west until the I-26 crossover to I-77 just outside Columbia in Lexington County.
• Beaufort – U.S. 21 is reversed to create three lanes at U.S. 21 Business and continues until U.S. 17.
• Hilton Head – One lane reversed to create three lanes traveling west on U.S. 278 at the intersection of the Spanish Wells Drive and Moss Creek Village Drive. The reversal is approximately two miles in length.
• Horry County – Two, four-lane reversals: 1) S.C. 544 to U.S. 378 and 2) S.C. 22 (Conway Bypass) to S.C. 576 near Marion County.
Some people were not waiting until Wednesday, as traffic away from the coast along major routes was heavy late Tuesday. It will get a lot heavier Wednesday, even if evacuation is not ordered. If it is, the plan rehearsed each summer for lane reversals will kick in. Note of caution: No matter how effective the planning and implementation, it will be chaotic and the going will be slow.
The T&D Region counties of Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun are adjacent to areas projected for evacuation. Our region will play the key role it always has as a primary evacuation point. Bamberg will get people from the southern coast and Orangeburg and Calhoun will see a large flow from Charleston.
In preparation for the influx, schools and county and state government offices in the three counties are closed starting Wednesday. This will allow schools and government buildings to be used as shelters as needed.
At the same time, people here must also be prepared for the impact of the hurricane itself. One has only to look back to Hurricane Hugo in 1989 to know that areas along the lengthy coastline can be spared significant damage depending on the storm’s track, while Orangeburg and counties even farther inland can experience severe damage as in Hugo.
If the governor goes forth with a full coastal evacuation today, she can expect second guessing depending on what transpires. If the storm causes major damage, she will be praised for acting in advance and saving lives. If people exit en masse and the storm ultimately spares the state a big hit, she will be blamed for major inconvenience and even negative economic impact.
In the end, protecting life is the first priority. She will make the best call based on best estimates of the storm’s track. If in doing so the governor makes decisions that are ultimately called overreaction, we promise not to be among her critics.