Tourists and residents fled inland in droves as a slightly weaker Hurricane Charley bore down on the South Carolina coast after smashing into Florida.
The hurricane made a second landfall Saturday, striking the coast of South Carolina with wind of 85 mph as the state’s Grand Strand resort region — beaches and high-dollar homes and hotels — stood nearly empty after a mandatory evacuation of some of the area’s 180,000 tourists and residents.
Gov. Mark Sanford had urged voluntary evacuation earlier Friday. Then the Hurricane’s strength increased and it veered to the east as it made landfall in Florida with 145 mph winds.
“This has proven to be an unpredictable storm,” Sanford said as he ordered the mandatory evacuation.
A hurricane warning remained in effect from Cocoa Beach, northward to Oregon Inlet, N.C., and a tropical storm warning was in effect on the North Carolina and Virginia Coasts north of Oregon Inlet to Chincoteague, including the lower Chesapeake Bay south of Smith Point.
Preparing for the worst
Hopes were high that the hurricane’s path across Florida would rob it of its strength and reduce it to a weak hurricane or strong tropical storm by the time it approached South Carolina.
But North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley prepared for the worst. He declared a state of emergency and National Guard troops were dispatched to Charlotte, Raleigh, Kinston and Lumberton to help with any rescues and cleanup.
“People should stay at home, off the roads, until the storm passes,” he said Friday.
In South Carolina, Kari Sorrels and her family had little traffic problems as they evacuated North Myrtle Beach at 7:15 p.m. Friday and drove to Florence before stopping for gas. They said the 70 mile trip took less than an hour and a half.
“We’re very impressed with how they had the roads set up. They got us out of there quickly,” said Sorrels, who was leaving with her husband and 10-month-old son Daniel.
Areas around Myrtle Beach under the evacuation order were nearly empty for a Friday night and authorities had blocked all the main roads leading to the beach.
Outside the evacuation area, life went on much like normal with nightclubs open and people enjoying a stroll on an unusually breezy night.
Plenty of people decided to stay, like 21-year-old Matt Dufala of Greenville, whose parents own a condominium about 200 yards from the ocean in North Myrtle Beach.
“My brother survived Hugo,” Dufala said. “I think I can handle this.”
North Carolina authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation on Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferries. The island was battered less than two weeks ago by Hurricane Alex.
Voluntary evacuations were urged on Bogue Banks, a barrier island that includes the communities of Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach, and further south at Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach. In Wrightsville Beach, officials cruised the streets late Friday with truck-mounted loudspeakers telling visitors that a storm was coming and that they were encouraged to leave.
Residents of Sunset Beach, near the South Carolina border and accessible only by a one-lane swing bridge, were under a mandatory evacuation order beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday until the bridge’s closing three hours later. The town’s bridge must be secured during even moderate winds.
“We don’t have any choice because if the bridge is not tied to the mainland, the gusty winds can break it loose and then we have no bridge.” town administrator Linda Fluegel said.