FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - A total of five emergency shelters opened up Thursday afternoon in Florence County for anyone seeking shelter ahead of Hurricane Matthew.
Officials watching the storm in Florence County are emergency management and they decided to close county administrative and non-emergency departments Friday because of the potential for heavy rain and wind in the afternoon, which could make driving dangerous.
However, there are no plans to close the shelters that are open for evacuees. The SC Emergency Management Department advises evacuees to 1-866-246-0133 to find the nearest open emergency shelter anywhere in the state.
The five are Wilson High School, South Florence High School, Timmonsville Education Center, Lake City High School, and Hannah-Pamplico Middle School. The number one goal is to make sure people know the shelters are open.
American Red Cross and the Department of Social Services are working 12-hour shifts to check people in, provide water and food and, most importantly, a roof over people's head. The American Red Cross reported 2,700 people stayed in shelters Thursday night in South Carolina.
Ernest Fiene and his wife are from Canada and were planning on staying in Myrtle Beach along Ocean Boulevard for a month.
Their resort is right on the ocean and in Zone A, so right at 12 p.m., Thursday, the couple hit the road and the evacuation route led them to West Florence High School where they are stuck now at least for the next three days.
"It's very strange but, you know, there's nothing we can do about it, and the resort can't do anything about it either because the government ordered the evacuation," Fiene said. "So everybody had to leave."
Another couple who are on a 2,000-mile bicycle journey from Vermont all the way down to Florida found their ride stopped by Matthew. They are now living inside Wilson High School until it's safe to continue.
"By the time it passes, maybe Sunday or maybe Monday, we hope to be on our way as soon as possible," said Mathieu Masse. "But we still have our safety in mind. That's the most important thing for us. For our parents that are back home, it's just important to be safe."
Even if the shelters were not full, he expressed if they help one person, that is what matters.
"I think we feel great," Masse said. "I mean those shelters are there for a reason. There's not many people yet, but the fact that they are there and we can use it, it is really reassuring for us to know we can be there until the storm has passed, and it's reassuring for people back home."
Florence County Emergency Management is working with the Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority as well to get buses lined up for people inside the county who need a ride to the shelters on Friday morning.
In Florence, call 843-665-3191 or 843-665-3236 in non-emergency situations involving downed trees, flooded or blocked streets and other public safety concerns.
call 843-495-0216 or 843-495-0320 in the event of power outages in which those land lines no longer work.