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Hours before Tropical Storm Florence was expected to veer into the South Carolina coast, residents along the beaches of the Grand Strand braced for a direct impact expected Friday night and into Saturday.
And because Florence, which first made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane early Friday in North Carolina, is creeping westward at just 5 miles per hour, state officials are bracing for a dangerous combination of lingering rainfall and overflowing river basins that may bring unprecedented flooding after the winds die down.
Along the 60-mile stretch of Grand Strand, which includes Myrtle Beach, 15 to 25 inches of rainfall were expected through Saturday.
“That rain and that flooding equals danger, and that means we’re going to have patience,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
“We’re going to lose electricity in large parts of the state for days and maybe even weeks.”
By early Friday afternoon, the outer bands of the storm, which is as big as the state of South Carolina, began pelting Myrtle Beach with rain and winds, turning the tourist destination into a ghost-town.
“We have a pretty high number of residents already in shelters, so we’re encouraged that it seems like most people are taking this seriously,” Horry County public information specialist Kelly Lee Brosky told NBC News.
Some residents, however, decided to hunker down and ride out the storm at home. Brittany Michelle Robertson, 27, says she stayed with her father and stepmother in the Myrtle Beach trailer park that the family manages. By early afternoon, she watched as several awnings on nearby hotels were torn down by the wind.
“We stayed to just make sure that families that stayed (in the trailer park ) are okay and are safe … and if there’s any damage to make sure it’s repaired,” Robertson, a preschool teacher, said by phone.
“I have faith in God that we’ll be okay.”
In the nearby city of North Myrtle Beach, officials said that 90 percent of the population had already been evacuated.
But the 911 emergency system was already overtaxed before the brunt of the storm, with the city public safety office asking residents to call a second number, 843-280-5511, for medical and life-threatening emergencies.
As of 2 p.m., there were nearly 67,000 power outages across South Carolina, state officials said.
After pushing through South Carolina and moving inland through the Appalachian Mountains, Florence was expected to make a turn northward as it weakens further. Its remnants were expected to dampen the Northeast, including New York City, by Tuesday.
The anticipated scale of the swathe of destruction from Florence is bringing back memories of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, a storm that caused an estimated $7 billion in damages, according to the state’s climatology office.
But McMaster warned that Florence is a very different menace than any South Carolinians had experienced before — whereas Hugo had made its way across the state in a matter of hours, this storm would rampage slowly, meaning much more water would be left in its wake.
“This is going to be a very trying period, this is not something we have before, but I am sure this is something we are equal to,” he said.
Rima Abdelkader and Ethan Sacks
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