Gov. McMaster on Irma impact: 'Still a lot of danger out there'

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster said that while Tropical Storm Irma did track away from South Carolina, it is still a very dangerous storm.

"We're very proud of how the citizens have responded to our urgings and warnings and information," McMaster said. "This is a plan that went according to how it was devised."

But even though he said the storm moved further away from the state compared with early forecasts, he said it continues to pose a serious threat.

"[There's] still a lot of danger out there," he said at a Monday afternoon news conference at the state's Emergency Operation Center in West Columbia. He also urged residents to stay home until the severe weather is over.

"As of 2 p.m., Tropical Storm Irma still had wind speeds of 60 mph with higher gusts," National Weather Service meteorologist John Quagliariello said. The storm was located about 50 miles south-southeast of Albany, Georgia and had tropical-storm-force winds extending more than 415 miles northeast of the center, which is why South Carolina continues to feel the impact, he said.

One of the biggest issues is the ongoing inundation along the coast, especially along the central and southern coast, Quagliariello said.

"The tide gauge in Charleston Harbor has already surpassed Hurricane Matthew levels and is at its third highest level on record and still rising, as of 2 p.m." he said.

In Charleston, areas from Calhoun Street to the Battery are flooded, prompting a flash flood emergency declared for the Charleston Peninusla.

Quagliariello said wind gusts of 72 mph were recorded at Folly Beach, while Sullivan's Island recorded wind gusts of 62 mph and Beaufort recorded gusts of 66 mph.

McMaster said the state's Department of Transportation already has 2,081 employees clearing roads. He said there have been 83 road closures across seven counties.

He said 746 National Guardsmen are on duty, along with another 100 State Troopers assisting local law enforcement, 101 State Guardsmen and 369 agents from SLED, South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services and the Department of Natural Resources are also on duty.

The state has opened 25 shelters and as of noon Monday, 885 people have come to the shelters. Shelters can house more than 13,000 people if necessary, McMaster said.

He also urged people to stay home rather than risk their safety or the safety of first responders who may have to come in and rescue them.

"We've seen a video of law enforcement at Edisto Beach taking high risk to rescue a group of people in an automobile in a storm surge there that was overtaking their car," McMaster said. "There is no need to put the safety of your family or first responders at risk during this dangerous storm, so we're asking everyone to stay inside, even after it stops raining."

McMaster warned people not to walk or drive down flooded streets because there could be holes in streets that are not visible or downed power lines under the water.

SCDOT Dep. Sec. Leland Colvin said that of 83 roadways closed, two-thirds of them were closed because of fallen trees and the remaining closures were because of flooding.

State officials reported 146,784 meter power outages statewide. McMaster said the five counties taking the biggest hit in power outages include Charleston, Beaufort, Lexington, Richland and Aiken, he said. State officials had reports of 36,000 outages in Charleston County alone.

Authorities said Monday there have been no reports of deaths in South Carolina from storms related to Tropical Storm Irma.

On Friday, McMaster issued a mandatory evacuation order for the barrier islands of three counties: Edisto Beach in Colleton County; Daufuskie, Fripp, Harbor, Hunting and Hilton Head Islands in Beaufort County; and Knowles and Tullifiny in Jasper County. That evacuation took effect at 10 a.m. Saturday.

A decision to allow people back into those areas has not yet been made, he said.

"The evacuation cannot be lifted until it is safe for the people to return," McMaster said.

But he repeated past assurances that law enforcement and armed guardsman are on patrol and will arrest on sight anyone caught trying to steal or loot and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

SCEMD Director Kim Stenson said many counties across the state have been impacted by power outages and downed trees. That damage, he said, extended from the southern border with Georgia to Georgetown.

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