gov presser

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the closure of state offices and public schools in 26 counties – including Aiken County – ahead of Hurricane Florence's landfall.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the closure of state offices and public schools in 26 counties – including Aiken County – ahead of Hurricane Florence's landfall.

The closings will go into effect Tuesday, McMaster said Monday afternoon during a hurricane update and briefing.

State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, tweeted that the schools would likely remain closed for several days.

The schools will be used as evacuation centers and shelters, both McMaster and state Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said. 

"While the weather surrounding Hurricane Florence isn’t expected to directly impact Aiken County, residents evacuating from coastal areas throughout the state will be evacuating to our area, utilizing our schools as shelter," a press release from the Aiken County Public School District reads.

"All Aiken County schools, programs, offices and departments will be closed for tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 11. Our District remains committed to consistent communications with our school community and will provide immediate notification should there be any further impact past tomorrow on normal school operations."

Updates and information will be shared with families via BlackBoard Connect, the Aiken school district's automatic calling system, as well as through its mobile app, website and social media outlets.

"These are not decisions made by the county," Dr. Sean Alford, the school district superintendent, said. "They are made in concert with the state. The folks in the southern part of the state need shelters, and we can help. In this case, we won't go back to school until the governor says we go back to school." 

McMaster said school buses may be needed to help with emergency efforts.

As a result of the governor’s mandated evacuations, Horse Creek Academy announced it will be closed Tuesday, Sept. 11, according to the school's social media page.

USC Aiken will cancel all classes and university-related activities, beginning at 12:10 p.m., Tuesday, Sept.11. All non-essential personnel can leave at 12:10 p.m. Essential personnel will remain on campus and will be contacted by their immediate supervisors regarding their operating schedules. Updates regarding the operating schedule for Wednesday, September 12, will be posted by 5 p.m., on Tuesday, Sept. 11, on the USC Aiken website.

Aiken Technical College also will be closed Tuesday, Sept. 11, due to possible impacts from Hurricane Florence on the region. Classes scheduled for this evening will continue as scheduled.

"The college will continue to monitor the storm and the local impact. Further notification will be sent should there be any impact beyond tomorrow on normal college operations," according to a news release from the college. "ATC employees and students are encouraged to continue to check their email, MyATC Portal, website, and ATC’s official social media pages for updates."

Fox Creek High School will hold class at the regular time Tuesday and plan to dismiss at the regular scheduled time, according to a news release from the school. "We do not currently have the ability to handle evacuees from the storm and, as a result, we should be able to carry on with our normal schedule. In the event that the weather poses a serious threat to safe travel, a decision will be made at that time," the release states.

Hurricane Florence strengthened to a Category 4 on Monday.

"We're in for a real episode here," McMaster said during his briefing, later adding: "This is a real hurricane we have coming."

McMaster also ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal counties: Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, Georgetown and Horry.

McMaster said that about 1 million people are expected to flee the coast during the evacuation. That includes tourists.

Lane reversals will be put into effect along evacuation routes. I-26 will have lanes reversed so that all traffic is carried toward Columbia – away from the storm.

Additional law enforcement will be in place to prevent crimes such as price gouging and looting.

Paul Matthews, the director of Aiken County Emergency Management, said that his staff has been "closely monitoring" the storm throughout the weekend and that they've had numerous conferences.

"We discussed sheltering for coastal evacuees into the Aiken area," Matthews said.

Matthews said that the only evacuation shelter Aiken is currently listing is South Aiken High School, which is the county's primary shelter.

Shelter locations are opened inland based on need. A list of shelter locations, which will be updated in real time, is available at www.scemd.org.

"As we hear things, we'll alert," the governor said.

Check back with the Aiken Standard for updates.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin