Preparations for Hurricane Michael starting in South Carolina

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Not nearly finished dealing with Hurricane Florence’s destruction, S.C. emergency officials have started preparations for Hurricane Michael as that storm moves toward the Florida Panhandle.

As of Monday afternoon, the Category 1 hurricane was in the Gulf of Mexico. It was forecast to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, potentially bringing heavy rain and strong winds to South Carolina late Wednesday and throughout the day Thursday.

The storm also could bring with it tornadoes and storm surge.

Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said Monday that the agency plans to have a limited staff — of roughly a dozen or so — working at its Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia toward the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Transportation also is preparing in case the storm hits South Carolina, the agency said Monday.

Less than a month after Florence hit the state, road and bridge repairs — involving 57 roads and 28 bridge closures, as of Friday — still are common in the Pee Dee and coastal areas. The state’s Transportation Department urged drivers Monday to use caution in those areas, asking motorists to obey all warning signs and not to drive around any barricades.

Hurricane Florence pounded South Carolina in September, particularly the state’s northeastern counties, causing flooding, evacuations and millions of dollars in damage to homes, roads and bridges. Nine people died in South Carolina, officials said.

At its peak, the state had nearly 300 road and bridge closures because of Florence. About 75 percent of those since have reopened, said Andy Leaphart, the Transportation Department’s chief engineer for operations. “Repairs are active and ongoing,” he said. “I’m happy with the progress we’ve made.”

S.C. transportation officials were expected to have their first conference call on Michael on Monday afternoon, making sure equipment and personnel are ready.

It is tough, Leaphart said, given road “teams haven’t had a chance to rest and catch our breath from the last one.” But, he added, “We’ll be up to the challenge.”

Currently, Emergency Management’s Becker said there is no concern the state will run short of the resources that it needs ahead of Hurricane Michael.

But should the state lack resources, “we have mechanisms, processes and procedures to get them into our state very quickly,” Becker said, adding state officials are in contact with their counterparts in Florida to see if they have any needs. “The good thing is FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is already here. They haven’t left since Florence made landfall.”

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Michael still has “got a lot of land to travel before (hitting) South Carolina,” Becker added.

“Right now, most of the Southeast are all watching this storm together.”