CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston's mayor says it goes against his grain to be inhospitable, but says now's the time to leave Charleston.
Mayor John Tecklenburg urged residents to follow South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's evacuation order at a Thursday afternoon news conference.
"Rest assured that this team will watch over the store, we're going to mind the store while everyone's gone, and so just go ahead and leave town and hopefully have a good vacation out of town," Tecklenburg said, surrounded by Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, Emergency Management Director Mark Wilbert and other city leaders. "We're going to take care of things and welcome everybody back on Sunday and Monday and Charleston's going to be just fine."
Tecklenburg's optimistic tone followed more dire warnings about the need for residents to evacuate.
"You must act now to prepare you and your family," Wilbert said. "You are running out of time to follow the governor's order to evacuate."
He said dangers from the storm will be significant flooding from storm surge and persistent and prolonged rainfall and tropical storm-force winds.
"We can expect to feel the effects of this storm starting late Friday, that's just a little over 24 hours from now, and through all the day on Saturday," Wilbert said. "Please do not wait to act to protect you and your family."
Wilbert said shelters are opened and transportation will continue to be provided by bus service through pickup points throughout the city until 8 p.m. Thursday and on-demand on Friday.
"Please do not forget to pack your important papers, medication, an extra pair of glasses if you wear them, and ensure someone else in your family or a close friend knows where you're going," Wilbert said.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said they are not advocating that anyone stay behind to ride out the storm.
"We are advocating that they leave the area and heed the evacuation warning and order so that they can be safe and we do not have to put first responders in harm's way trying to rescue or help people who find themselves in a dire situation," Mullen said.
He warned residents that during the storm, there will be limitations on the response time for public safety. He said once winds reach 35 mph, the city will issue advisories warning people it is not safe to be on bridges. Once winds reach 45 mph, there will be very limited law enforcement representation on bridges and at high-rise locations and area neighborhoods, he said.
"Once the conditions of the storm become so dangerous that we have to pull our public safety workers off the street, there will be very, very limited response capabilities," he said. "It's very important that people in the city understand that when that point arrives and public safety are pulled off the street for their protection and to make sure that we're available to respond once the storm passes, if you call 911, you will not get the normal response that you get on a daily basis. You are not going to get a five or seven-minute response once that dangerous situation arises."
Mullen said the city is working with the county to make sure they have resources should water rescues become necessary.
"If you decide not to leave, you accept the responsibility for yourself as well as those people who are with you because there will be limited response capabilities once the storm has impacted the city," Mullen said.
Tecklenburg said the City of Charleston faces a real threat of flooding from the confluence of more than a foot of rain, high tide at 1 p.m. on Saturday and a four-to-six-foot storm surge predicted from Hurricane Matthew.
"So you add all that together, and it's clear that we have the potential for a flooding situation that's much worse than last October, that we experienced less than just a year ago," Tecklenburg said.
He also said high winds will likely cause power outages.
"Charleston isn't going to be a great place to be hanging out over the next few days," he said.
He also praised the lane reversals on I-26 being used to get people to the Midlands within two hours' time.
Tecklenburg said curfews could be possible if conditions warrant, adding that is not something they would plan in advance.