WMBF Investigates: I-95 South fills as Irma clears

WMBF Investigates: I-95 South fills as Irma clears

DILLON COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Drivers headed south on Interstate 95 through the Pee Dee Tuesday morning at a significantly higher rate than usual.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation has a traffic counter on the interstate near the welcome center at the North Carolina-South Carolina line. It shows 2,190 cars went south on I-95 between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., more than double the three-month average for a Tuesday at that time.

The WMBF Investigates team analyzed the data from DOT and found that's more cars in the southbound lanes than any one-hour period in the month of September, topping peak traffic the afternoon of Friday, September 1 ahead of the Labor Day Weekend.

The 9,800 cars from midnight to 10 a.m. Tuesday more than double the typical 4,836 on Tuesday mornings through the summer.

The analysis found the southbound traffic on I-95 was below the three-month average from 6 a.m. on September 6, last Wednesday, to 7 p.m. Monday.

Averages show southbound traffic typically peaks Saturday at noon at 2,177 cars on the interstate near the rest area. There were just 675 cars heading south in that same spot this past Saturday.

The northbound lanes experienced the opposite effect, hitting a September high Friday at 1 p.m. at 2,773 cars compared to a three-month average of 1,743 at that time. Northbound traffic was above average from Wednesday at 6 p.m. until Saturday at 5 p.m.

This morning saw below average travel in the northbound lanes. There were 1,680 cars headed north at the rest area from midnight to 10 a.m. compared to a Tuesday three-month average of 4,811.

Jeff Lee, the owner of the Shell Interstate Convenience Store on S.C. 52 and I-95 at exit 164 in Florence County, said sales at the gas station were up 60 percent on Friday and Saturday from people evacuating south and heading north ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Lee said Monday was slow and typical for this time of year, but noticed a large amount of service crews heading south to restore Florida, so there was a 40 percent increase in diesel sales. Tuesday he expects sales to be up more than 30 percent from all the travelers going back home.

Rose Siebeneck, from Palm Beach, said they were on the road all night coming from Long Island, New York. Her family was in Long Island for a wedding over the weekend when Irma hit, and her flight was canceled Monday. So, they rented a car and hit the road.

She said she just wants to get back home.

"It was really scary seeing it was coming directly to us and covering the whole state," Siebeneck said. "It was really mortifying. People were going to evacuate, but it was like where are you going to evacuate to? You're better off staying where you are or going to a shelter. It's just we had the wedding planned, so we did leave but I would have preferred to stay home. I've got birds, I have a cat and a dog."

Unfortunately, some of the unknown awaits a lot of families.

"I know I have a lot of clean-up ahead of me," Siebeneck said. "I heard there's lot of tress down in the neighborhood. We just kind of want to get there and I am panicking we will still be stuck on the road."

Miami Beach resident Ryan Nieves and his girlfriend, who drove 18 hours straight to Washington, D.C., were thankful they took the I-95 route when they evacuated Friday instead of heading west.

"We saw a lot of Florida tags going up and coming back," Nieves said. "Even at the Best Western we stayed across the state, there were plenty of people from Florida staying there and we all arrived at the same time. It's funny; it's almost like a queue of Florida cars on the highway."

One Florence resident, Jerry Wilson, agreed about noticing the busy interstate.

"I work at Perdue in Dillon and commute, and the traffic has been hectic," Wilson said. "I've seen a couple wrecks, so what I've done starting Friday, I started to take an alternate road. I took 301 and it was better for me."

No matter the volume of traffic, most drivers said they are thankful they're safe and are ready to see if their homes are too.

"We have a lot of flooding, so I have no idea what I'm going to run into when I get back home," said Beaufort County resident Velda Marshall. "So I am very much concerned, but I know somehow I am going to make it. I just thank God we were able to get out in time."

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