- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina authorities are preparing to evacuate more than 1 million people - or about a quarter of the state’s population - from low-lying coastal areas as Hurricane Matthew threatens.

If the forecast doesn’t change before Wednesday morning, Gov. Nikki Haley said she will begin the massive evacuation effort that involves 3,700 law officers and reversing lanes to allow drivers on the wrong side of about a dozen highways at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Currently there are no hurricane watches or warnings for the South Carolina coast, and conditions aren’t expected to begin deteriorating until late morning or early afternoon Friday in the southernmost parts of the state. But Haley said the state needs to start well in advance so the evacuation can be orderly and comfortable.

“The key is we want to be safe, but we want to make sure it is not a frustrating situation for people,” Haley said at a Tuesday news conference.

It is the first massive evacuation in South Carolina since Hurricane Floyd brushed the state in 1999. The governor then did not reverse lanes on Interstate 26, and a typical two-hour ride turned into a 24-hour nightmare.

The state Climatology Office says a hurricane has not made landfall in South Carolina since Gaston moved ashore north of Charleston in August 2004. Matthew is forecast to hit the state as a Category 2 or 3 storm - the strongest since Hugo slammed into Charleston in 1989.

Schools are closing for the rest of the week in the southern and eastern half of the state so they can be turned into shelters, and government offices are closing in those same counties to pull traffic off roads needed as evacuation routes.

The evacuation order will likely include all of Beaufort County and Jasper County east of Interstate 95, most of Charleston, North Charleston and the barrier islands and suburbs east and west of the cities, and areas near and east of U.S. Highway 17 in Georgetown and Horry counties. The exact areas will be detailed in the evacuation order and found online at the South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s website.

Greenville County is sending more than 350 school buses to Charleston County to evacuate people without a car. State agencies were arranging evacuations of people with special medical needs, Haley said.

Officials on Edisto Island began knocking on doors Tuesday afternoon, asking people to leave as a storm surge of up to 10 feet could inundate the island if it takes a direct hit. Haley said she hopes people listen and leave.

“If you think you can take care of yourself, at least think of my law enforcement and my National Guardsmen because they are going to have to be the ones that go out and try and get you. You are putting their lives at stake,” the governor said.

Haley said if the forecast changes overnight, she will delay or cancel the evacuation order. “We’re great when it comes to prayer. That’s what I’ll be doing all night hoping this shifts,” she said.

But she and her leaders are preparing for the worst. About 1 million people have moved to South Carolina since Hurricane Floyd threatened and that extra population has provided its own challenges. Still, the governor said her staff is ready after six years of exercises.

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