CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Tri-County officials are urging people to stay home and hunker down Monday when the worst of Hurricane Irma's impact on the Lowcountry is expected.
Officials from Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties spoke Sunday afternoon as Irma approached the southern edge of the Florida Peninsula. The storm, still a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in the Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m. Sunday.
Charleston County was operating at OPCON 1, the most urgent level of readiness, on Sunday, according to former Emergency Management Department Chief Cathy Haynes.
The county will open one shelter for Charleston County residents at 1 p.m. That shelter is at 3765 Leeds Ave., across from the SCDMV. It is a pet-friendly shelter. School buses will be running from 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. to transport people to shelters from hurricane evacuation signs across the area.
Authorities say shelter workers will not be checking IDs, but only asking for names and addresses. Residents should bring a sleeping bag, pillows, medications, and entertainment for children. The shelter will accommodate pets, but owners will have to bring crates, food and any other pet needs.
If you live in a low-lying area that normally floods, you should leave now, officials say.
Charleston County residents who have questions or need any kind of assistance should call 843-746-3900.
People who may need assistance with medical issues should call toll-free 1-800-578-2031.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey urged people not to take risks about flooding.
"Let's put it in sort of common-sense terms: if you've flooded in the past, you're probably going to flood again," he said. "Now's the time to leave before that occurs. Don't wait until the water starts rising."
He urged people who have family members elsewhere they can stay with to do so, but said the shelter is available for those who do not.
But he said if you think you need to move your car because of possible flooding, that means your house will probably flood as well.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg warned despite the storm's westward track, the Lowcountry has not dodged a bullet because winds from Irma will be blowing water up to the coastline causing an inundation of four to six feet.
"When it happens tomorrow during the middle of the day, it's going to be right when we have a full moon high tide," Tecklenburg said. "The combination of the regular high tide midday tomorrow and this four to six extra feet or excess high tide means that in all of our historic low-lying areas, we're going to have some serious flooding."
Tecklenburg also urged residents who live in low-lying areas or who don't feel safe to go to the shelters.
City parking garages are allowing residents who normally park on downtown streets to park their cars there throughout the duration of the storm. That applies to all city garages except for the Gaillard Center parking garage at 33 Alexander Street; the Marion Square garage at 399 King Street; and the first floor of the Visitor Center garage at 73 Mary Street.
Berkeley County is operating at OPCON 2.
There has been no word on shelters being opened in the county, but residents with questions about their neighborhood should call the county's emergency information line at 843-719-4800.
Dorchester County is operating at OPCON 2. The county is under a tropical storm warning, meaning tropical storm-force wind conditions with wind speeds of approximately 39 mph or greater are possible as early as Sunday evening through late Monday night. Sustained tropical force winds are not expected, but strong gusts of up to 60 mph are highly likely.
The projected five-day rainfall totals range from three to six inches and higher in isolated areas. The heaviest rainfall and accumulation is forecast for Monday daytime hours.
The upper Ashley River will be influenced by the forecast storm surge at the coast. The highest water levels are expected between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.m Monday. The EOC continues to monitor the tides, and assess all possible impacts to areas in close proximity to tidal waterways and low-lying areas.
Dorchester County residents with questions about storm preps should call the county's information line at 843-832-0393.