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South Carolina Evacuates Coast; Southeast Braces For Run-In With Fran

September 5, 1996

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ With memories of Hugo’s devastation still fresh, thousands of coastal South Carolina residents and tourists fled inland to dodge Hurricane Fran as it churned furiously toward a midnight landfall.

Lines were long at grocery store checkout counters and gas stations as people stocked up on fuel, food and bottled water. Motel rooms were booked for miles around.

``You do ... what you can do,″ Janice Forest said from a shelter at a high school south of Charleston. ``You leave the rest up to nature, which is God.″

Fran was expected to hit the South Carolina coast at Georgetown, about 50 miles north of Charleston. Landfall was predicted for midnight with winds approaching 130 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Gale-force winds of 40 mph or greater were expected to hit South Carolina by this afternoon.

At 5 a.m., 26 mph winds blew in downtown Charleston while the storm was centered about 260 miles southeast, moving northwest at 12 mph. Fran packed winds of up to 115 mph extending 145 miles out. A hurricane warning extended from north of Brunswick, Ga., to the North Carolina-Virginia border.

The storm is as big as Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and has the potential to be as strong, according to the National Weather Service.

``I think people’s memories are very vivid about what can happen,″ said Clarendon County Administrator Bobby Boland, whose community was heavily damaged by Hugo. ``We’re making all the initial preparations we can.″

Hugo caused almost $8 billion in damage and killed 35 people as it tore through the Caribbean and up the East Coast. Most of the damage was in South Carolina.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. David Beasley called out the National Guard and ordered a half-million people evacuated from the coast.

If someone refuses to leave, ``we ask for next of kin,″ said Georgetown County Sheriff’s Maj. Mike Schwartz.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent crews to the Southeast in preparation for the storm, and director James Lee Witt said six tractor-trailers loaded with cots, tents, generators, blankets and other supplies were ready to go. The Agriculture Department stockpiled food and eight medical teams were on alert.

Georgia authorities recommended that coastal residents evacuate and declared a state of emergency in 11 counties, making them eligible for state money for cleanup and repairs.

In North Carolina, people began evacuating from Ocracoke Island, which which is only accessible by ferry. Emergency planners along the southern coast of the state began urging people to leave beaches and barrier islands Wednesday night.

Some residents along the South Carolina coast, recalling how Hugo ripped through their communities, worked to fortify their property, while others chose to leave.

``The energy’s starting to pump up here,″ Tom Owens of Cincinnati said as he bought disposable diapers and baby formula at a Food Lion in Myrtle Beach.

Cars were lined up five or six deep at gas stations while traffic on Interstate 26, the main road inland, was bumper-to-bumper out of Charleston late Wednesday.

Jacob White of Beaufort, who said he has seen several hurricanes and has grown to respect them, waited in line to top off his car’s tank.

``You have to trust the man upstairs, too. But it helps to have a little gas,″ he said.

As residents and an estimated 150,000 tourists moved inland, they found hotel rooms scarce.

Most hotel rooms in Columbia, about 100 miles inland, were reserved by 3:30 p.m. ``I’ve called 14 hotels,″ a busy desk clerk at the Adam’s Mark downtown said late Wednesday. ``They are all booked.″

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