COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster said a decision on whether to issue a mandatory evacuation order could come Friday, but said that was a wild guess.
"If we're lucky, we won't need to leave. If we're unlucky, we'll wish we left a little earlier than we did. And for those folks who determine that they want to stay in their homes or stay in their businesses despite an evacuation order, we can't come get you," he said. "So, when we say, 'Go,' and if we say, 'Go,' when we say, 'Go,' it's time to go."
McMaster made the comments during a news conference in Columbia Wednesday afternoon in which he discussed his state of emergency declaration earlier that morning as a precaution well ahead of a possible impact from Hurricane Irma, which he says could be the same strength Hurricane Hugo was when it made landfall in South Carolina on September 22, 1989.
"This is not an order of mandatory evacuation," he said. "Something is likely to happen and we need to get prepared."
The declaration allows state emergency management officials to begin executing South Carolina's hurricane plan, McMaster said. It also allows the South Carolina National Guard to position resources and people in anticipation of an evacuation, landfall of the hurricane and recovery.
He also said he gave approval to execute the state mass transit plan, which allows FEMA and the South Carolina National Guard to begin making financial arrangements to provide transportation, mostly buses, for those unable to evacuate.
McMaster said he has also requested a presidential disaster declaration ahead of the hurricane so that the state can receive federal funding to prepare for the landfall impact.
"We do not know when or if it will come, and we don't know how strong it will be if it comes," McMaster said. "According to the National Weather Service and others, it is [at the time of a possible landfall] a Category 3 hurricane at this time. That was the same as Hugo. Hurricane Matthew was a Category 1 hurricane. That means if it hits in the strength that it now has when it gets here, it will be like Hurricane Hugo."
McMaster stressed that Team South Carolina is prepared for the storm.
"But what we cannot do is make the citizens prepare," he said. "So what we are urging you to do, all citizens, is get prepared. Just assume or pretend that a Category 3 hurricane is arriving tomorrow morning and do what you would do then, now. And get ready. Because when that hurricane is coming, when it gets close, it's too late."
Speaking to reporters from Columbia, McMaster was joined by South Carolina Emergency Management Department Director Kim Stenson and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bob Livingston.
The governor declared a state of emergency for South Carolina shortly before noon Wednesday as computer models shifted east, pointing the track of the Category 5 hurricane toward South Carolina after an initial landfall in southern Florida.
Meteorologists say it is still too early to know for sure what the impact on the state will be because the computer models continue to shift with each update.
The next forecast track update will be released at 5 p.m.