North Carolina and South Carolina were on high alert Thursday as Ian walked towards them after opening a path of destruction through Florida and regaining strength over the Atlantic Ocean.
Ian, downgraded to a tropical storm after hitting the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane on Wednesday, strengthened into a hurricane again on Thursday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
A hurricane warning is in effect from the Savannah River in Georgia to Cape Fear in North Carolina, an area that includes the entire coast of South Carolina, where the storm is expected to hit directly. A tropical storm warning is in effect for parts of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. The governors of North Carolina and Georgia did the same.
“If you haven’t made plans for every eventuality yet, this afternoon is the time to do so,” McMaster said in a statement. Thursday. “We can expect to experience heavy rain across the state as well as dangerous storm surge in low-lying coastal areas. With the potential for hurricane-force winds along our coast, it’s important that South Carolinians plan now.”
South Carolina officials said Ian could be the first hurricane to make a direct impact there since Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which caused heavy flooding. Ian is forecast to create storm surges of up to 4 to 7 feet on the South Carolina coast.
Charleston, which regularly floods and faces a possible direct hit from the storm, has opened up sites for residents to pick up sandbags to protect their homes. City leaders were working with state and county officials to coordinate a response and specifically warned those in low-lying areas to make additional preparations.
“Most importantly, we want everyone to be careful, don’t panic, be prepared and have a plan for how you’re going to take care of yourself and your loved ones,” said Ben Almquist, director city emergency management, NBC Affiliate WCBD reported.
The hurricane, which was about 240 miles south of Charleston, had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and was tracking north-northeast at 10 mph, according to the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. . The storm “may strengthen slightly” before reaching land, the hurricane center said.
Ian is expected to approach the South Carolina coast on Friday and move inland across the Carolinas Friday night and Saturday, weakening rapidly as it moves over land, the hurricane center said.
Whereas South Carolina faces the biggest threat, North Carolina and Georgia could also see significant flooding due to downpours and storm surge from Ian.
“This storm can still be dangerous and even deadly,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Thursday briefing. “Heavy rain, up to 7 inches in some areas, is likely to cause flooding, landslides threaten our mountains, and there is a risk of tornadoes and coastal flooding statewide. “
William Ray, director of the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management, said during the briefing that the department had positioned 350 people at the state operations center and three other regional centers to support any response. He said the department has for the most part not yet recommended evacuations, but he said residents should remain vigilant.
It was a common refrain from officials in the three states, who urged residents to stay alert even as the storm was downgraded after its disastrous landfall in Florida.
Before Ian went from strength to strength again, Daniel Kaniewski, who was deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Trump administration, said: “Just because it’s not a hurricane anymore doesn’t mean storms can’t be deadly. As we saw with Hurricane Ida, there were more deaths in that storm in New York, New Jersey than there were in Louisiana.”
Ida, which first hit Louisiana last year before heading northeast, surprised many in New York and New Jersey. The flooding caught authorities and residents off guard.
Kaniewski, who is now chief executive of risk management and strategy firm Marsh McLennan, said flood risks after a hurricane can be significant, even if they weaken.
Ian still has the strength to dump a huge amount of rain on Georgia and the Carolinas. It could also draw large amounts of water into rivers and streams, creating immense flood risks.
Kaniewski said it could be “absolutely catastrophic depending on the environment and where that water ends up.”
“The key point, just as it was the key point before it made landfall in Florida, is that citizens should heed the advice of local authorities because these impacts can be very localized and local authorities will know, on the basis of the modeling, what the impacts are likely to be,” he said.