UPDATED at 6:10 p.m. Thursday
Governors Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Henry McMaster of South Carolina have both declared a state of emergency so state and local officials can better prepare for Hurricane Irma.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster is ordering the evacuations of 143 health care facilities on the coast. He said he’ll decide Saturday morning whether to order an evacuation for residents. But he warns the major highways are already getting crowded with people leaving Florida and Georgia.
“We are already experiencing additional high levels of traffic from those states coming into our state to escape the storm and to get into safer ground,” he said. “So as the storm proceeds on there will be more and more people.”
McMaster says there are thousands of National Guard troops, law enforcement officers and other personnel ready to help with evacuations, if necessary. He says the Red Cross plans to set up 200 shelters throughout the state if the storm continues to head towards South Carolina.
Cooper said Wednesday that the storm has the potential to cause trouble for all of North Carolina's 100 counties.
"We're five days or so away from feeling the impacts of Hurricane Irma, but it is not too soon to get ready," Cooper said.
Cooper said the emergency declaration takes effect at 8 a.m. Thursday. He said at a media briefing residents should also listen to emergency officials and get ready themselves for a storm with a still uncertain track.
"Wherever you live in North Carolina...You need to take this story seriously, and you need to start preparing for some type of impact," Cooper said.
The governor says the state is in a somewhat better position compared to Hurricane Matthew last October, when rains from an earlier storm swelled inland waterways by the time the center of the storm arrived.
Cooper says swift-water rescue teams the state sent to Texas for Hurricane Harvey should all be back in North Carolina.
The declarations allow both states the state to begin certain preparations for an emergency and use the National Guard if necessary.
McMaster made South Carolina's disaster declaration around noon Wednesday after the National Hurricane Center's forecast on Irma's track put the prospect of a major hurricane just off the coast of Florida about 200 miles away from Charleston next Monday morning.
"We got this," McMaster said at an already-scheduled summit on the opioid problem. "We can't stop the hurricane. If it comes, it's going to be here, but we can be ready for it."
Officials encouraged residents near the coast to review the state Emergency Management's hurricane guide.
McMaster stresses the state of emergency is a precautionary measure and he is not yet calling for evacuations. He implored residents to get themselves and their homes ready.
“Just pretend that the hurricane is going to be here in the morning and do now what you would do then. If you have outdoor furniture that’s loose and fly around tie it up put it inside,” he said. “If your cars battery has been dead better fix it. If you don’t have gas in your vehicle better get some.”
The track of Hurricane Irma is still uncertain. Officials expect to know if the Carolinas are in the storm’s path within the next two days. In the meantime, McMaster said emergency officials are getting ready for a potential evacuation by securing buses for those who don’t have cars.
Irma on Wednesday had winds of 185 mph and was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in history.
South Carolina evacuated much of its coast in October when Hurricane Matthew skirted the shoreline before coming ashore just north of Charleston with winds of 75 mph.
NCDOT is readying supplies needed for road repairs. The state has a website where residents can go to learn how to prepare for a disaster.
The American Red Cross is basing its statewide relief efforts out of Charlotte. As part of the preparations the organization is halting deployments to Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery.
Rick Schou Regional Disaster Officer with the Western North Carolina Region of the Red Cross said the organization is bringing in 25 53-foot tractor trailers with shelter supplies and shelf stable meals to Charlotte.
Schou said the organization is working to get disaster responders ready to help.
"We do have some folks who are flying back from Texas," he said. "We do have others inbound from other states."
Charlotte Motor Speedway is opening its Rock City campground to hurricane evacuees from the South.
“We are happy to open our doors to help those needing a place to seek shelter during this difficult time,” said Greg Walter, executive vice president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We look forward to show them the hospitality for which we’re known and they deserve. We are fortunate to have camping available to accommodate both hurricane evacuees and the drag racing fans who will join us next week.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management said it is monitoring the storm and encourages residents to a plan of where to go if evacuations are ordered.
As Hurricane Irma moves north with possible effects on the Carolinas, WFAE has compiled this information to help you prepare. For the most up-to-date information for your specific location install these apps from FEMA and ReadyNC on your mobile phones.
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Red Cross shelter map
Click here for a print version of the North Carolina evacuation map.
Click here for a print version of the South Carolina Evacuation map.