As Hurricane Florence looms closer with potentially deadly storm surge flooding, torrential rains and 140 mile per hour winds, preparations are being made in the Carolinas and Virginia, which have all declared states of emergency.
Florence is expected to most directly hit North Carolina, with parts of South Carolina and Virginia being affected by the gigantic storm. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the damage from Florence will likely be "catastrophic" and could result in weeks of power outages in some states.
The storm will be the most powerful to hit the Southeast Coast in decades.
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In a press conference Tuesday morning, Gov. Henry McMaster lifted mandatory closings for schools and state offices in multiple counties and mandatory evacuations in three counties: Jasper, Colleton and Beaufort.
Due to this action, the Aiken County Public School District announced schools will reopen Wednesday. The schools will operate on a regular schedule, according to a Tuesday afternoon statement issued by the school district.
USC Aiken and Aiken Tech will resume classes and activities on Wednesday, as well.
The reopening of schools ultimately fell to the local level, according to several government officials.
"We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with this hurricane," McMaster said. He called the storm "unpredictable" and said South Carolina will remain vigilant in case the storm changes course.
South Aiken High School will not be used as an emergency shelter at this time, according to the statement from the Aiken school district. Alternative shelters will be announced by the Red Cross.
"We certainly apologize for the inconvenience caused by (Tuesday's) mandatory school closing and appreciate the community’s understanding of the unpredictability of weather systems," the District's statement reads. "We look forward to welcoming everyone back to school (Wednesday)."
Officials still urge caution, especially for residents along the coast. Although Florence is tracking further north toward Wilmington, North Carolina, the predicted storm surge area extends as far south as Edisto Beach, and impacts of the hurricane will extend far beyond where the storm, which is hundreds of miles wide, will make landfall.
Florence is predicted to strike as a Category 4 hurricane, with winds of around 140 miles per hour. The storm system is also slow-moving, despite its high wind speeds, which increases the risk of heavy flooding.
Hurricane Florence, upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane as of Monday afternoon, is causing closures and cancellations around the area.
South Carolina Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall reported that I-26 was seeing three times the normal flow of traffic due to evacuations on Tuesday morning, in spite of lane reversals taking effect one hour early.
At least 1,800 National Guardsmen are on duty in preparation for the incoming storm. The governor said that number could reach 3,000.
As of Tuesday, NOAA reported Florence has sustained winds of 140 miles per hour and was nearing Category 5 strength.
President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for the Carolinas and tweeted "federal government stands by ready to assist, 24/7" on Monday.
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