South Carolina reversed beach-bound lanes on Interstate 26 Wednesday, opening a 100-mile alley to speed coastal evacuations from the menace of Hurricane Matthew.
Addressing the chaotic gridlock that choked the region in 1999 as Hurricane Floyd bore down, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said the highway – a vital artery between the state’s two biggest cities, Charleston and Columbia – would flow only westbound beginning Wednesday afternoon.
Some confusion occurred as Highway Patrol troopers directed the lane swap that went into effect at 3 p.m., but no major problems were immediately reported.
It was the first time eastbound traffic on I-26 was reversed for hurricane evacuation that could affect up to a million people.
Hurricane Matthew, a powerful Category 3 maelstrom poised to begin gnawing at Florida’s east coast as early as Thursday, turned a notch eastward Wednesday, reducing at least temporarily its threat to the Carolinas this weekend.
Schools and businesses in the eastern half of the state already announced closures based on Matthew’s earlier path, and Haley encouraged people to get moving now to be safe.
“If you think you can take care of yourself, at least think of my law enforcement and my National Guardsmen,” she said in a Columbia press conference, “because they are going to have to be the ones that go out and try and get you. You are putting their lives at stake.”