PINE RIDGE, S.C. -- South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster did not mince words on Thursday, delivering a dire message mainly to those coastal residents who have chosen to remain in their homes despite repeated warnings to leave as Hurricane Florence creeps toward the coast.
"If you're going to leave ... you should leave now because time is running out," McMaster said on Thursday. "Once these winds start blowing at that tropical storm rate, it will be virtually impossible for the rescuers to get in to rescue you."
More than 421,000 South Carolinians have already evacuated from the coast, McMaster said. Of those who left, more than 4,000 had sought housing at emergency shelters across the state. Sixty-one shelters have opened in South Carolina -- 12 of which are designated for special medical needs -- able to now accommodate more than 31,000 people.
Two of those 61 shelters are at full capacity.
Meanwhile, lane reversals on U.S. 501 ended at noon and reversals on I-26 end Thursday night, allowing state police and transportation workers to get to a safe location before the storm hits.
A now weakened Category 2 storm, Hurricane Florence still is expected to be "extremely dangerous" and a "life-threatening hurricane" the National Hurricane Center said. The storm will have winds in the 110 mph range.
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State officials and the National Weather Service warned the storm's weakening only relates to wind speed, not surges or flooding.
"We're seeing on social media, we're seeing comments and calls coming into our hotline that people are saying, 'Oh, it's only a Cat 2.' Well, only a Cat 2 has winds of up to 96 to 110 mph," Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division told The State on Thursday.
"It can still kill you. It can still bring a massive storm surge ashore."
The 400-mile-wide storm is predicted to start slamming the North Carolina coast Thursday night to early Friday, then weaken to a tropical storm as it drifts into South Carolina, said John Quagliariello, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia.