- Associated Press - Thursday, September 7, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster could order coastal residents to evacuate their homes starting Saturday morning.

Any order would correspond to lane reversals on several major highways, including Interstate 26 between Charleston and Columbia, meaning they would allow only out-bound traffic starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“Imagine this hurricane will be here in the morning and do what you need to do right away. It is coming,” McMaster said in a news conference broadcast from the state’s Emergency Management Division.

The state is prepared to open 200 shelters and transport 10,000 people by bus if needed, he said.

His comments about preparations for an order he’ll likely make Friday caused confusion on social media. But he clarified no one’s ordered out of their homes yet.

The biggest question seems to be not whether he’ll issue an order, but what counties will be included. Details will depend on the latest forecasts, he said, but a “full coastal evacuation” is possible.

“If you can leave now, go ahead,” he said. “A lot more people on the roads are going to slow things down.”

Traffic on South Carolina’s highways is already heavier than normal with residents fleeing Irma’s projected path. Traffic on Interstate 95, which stretches up the East Coast from Florida, was up 40 percent on Wednesday, McMaster said.

He urged drivers to follow evacuation signs posted along the highways, “no matter what they say on Google maps.”

McMaster did order 143 health care facilities along South Carolina’s coast to evacuate their patients. That executive order signed Thursday afternoon required hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers and other in-patient facilities in eight counties to immediately begin moving patients inland. Exceptions are allowed, but hospitals must cancel any previously scheduled elective surgeries and stop admitting any non-emergency patient.

McMaster also issued an order requiring owners of 2,370 public and private dams to lower their lake water levels. State workers have the authority to release the water if owners won’t, he said.

That order is aimed at preventing a repeat of October 2015, when bursting and overflowing dams amid historic 24-inch rains worsened deadly flooding.

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