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“Nothing like Matthew:” Irma has Charleston in state of emergency, evacuations encouraged

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“If you can leave now, go ahead.”

That was Mayor John Tecklenburg’s advice to Charleston residents Thursday, as the city enters a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Mayor Tecklenburg, flanked by city emergency operations and public safety officials, said the city is following suit with Gov. Henry McMaster’s emergency declaration for the entire state.

However, Tecklenburg said Charlestonians shouldn’t wait on the governor to issue an evacuation order if they have the means to leave now.

“You don’t have to wait until Saturday morning at 10 to leave town,” Tecklenburg said, referencing the anticipated evacuation order from the governor Saturday morning.

(TRACK HURRICANE IRMA | CLICK HERE)

The mayor says the city has been reaching out to vulnerable and homeless people in the city who may not be able to readily evacuate, and making them aware of resources to get them out of harm’s way.

“Systems will be in place for free public transportation to shelters,” Tecklenburg said.

The mayor says Shelter locations will be announced when and if an evacuation order is given. Pick-up locations for people who need to transportation to a shelter can be viewed HERE.

“We cannot overemphasize how dangerous this storm could be, and likely will be for the city of Charleston,” said Mark Wilbert, Emergency Management Director for Charleston. “It is much more dangerous than Hurricane Matthew, so comparing this to Hurricane Matthew is a bad comparison.”

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Wilbert says city officials possibly will require proof of residence for people trying to get back into certain areas of the city if damage is severe enough.

Interim Charleston Police Chief Jerome Taylor said Thursday his officers will be going on 12 hour shifts starting Saturday, working to protect property and aid anyone in need.

Flooding is also a top concern, and Tecklenburg says the city’s storm water crews will be out until the storm hits looking for possible drainage issues to prevent flooding from being worse.

“Storm surge is a real issue,” Tecklenburg said. “If you live on the barrier islands, or in a property that has a history of flooding, it’s a good time to be out of town.”

RELATED | Closings for Hurricane Irma

The mayor also says the city’s crews will be doing something new by using pumping systems in places with known drainage issues to help clear drains before the storm hits.

Tecklenburg said Thursday the most sandbags the city had ever given out in preparation for a storm in the past was 15,000. The mayor said the city gave out 20,000 bags on Thursday alone.

The mayor says the city’s parking garages will be open free of charge to Charleston residents starting Friday at 5 p.m. for people who need to stow their vehicles in order to protect them from flooding.

The city has set up a non-emergency Citizen’s Information Hotline for people with questions about services available before, during and after the storm. The number is 843-973-7219.

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