South Carolina residents steeled themselves for a battering early Sunday as Tropical Storm Gaston, just under hurricane strength, picked up speed as it spun toward the South Carolina coast.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who led Charleston’s recovery after it was struck by powerful Hurricane Hugo 15 years ago, urged people to stay indoors.
“The best advice for everyone is to stay put. Stay put, don’t go out please,” Riley said. “This will be past us quickly and let’s just stay out of harm’s way and get it behind us.”
Gaston was expected to sweep into Charleston County late Sunday morning — the second tropical storm in less than two weeks to hit the South Carolina coast.
Earlier this month, Hurricane Charley blew over South Carolina with 85 mph winds after devastating southwest Florida.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the length of the South Carolina coast as Gaston picked up speed.
Residents in low-lying areas in Charleston and Georgetown counties were urged to move to higher ground. Authorities also asked people living in mobile homes to evacuate.
John Legare of the state Emergency Management said about 30 people had sought refuge in five shelters in coastal counties as Gaston approached. But the storm’s speed could mean less flooding, he said.
“The faster it moves, the less chance it has to rain,” Legare said. “But until it has passed through, I don’t think we can say flooding is not a concern.”
Bridges in the Charleston area were closed to large vehicles, including trucks and SUVs, as the storm approached, officials said.
The storm hitting on a weekend made it easier for officials because there was no morning rush hour to contend with, said Lt. Morgan Shannon of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department.
“Still you are going to have people coming and going and things of that nature,” he said. “We want everybody to be careful out there.”
The National Hurricane Center posted a hurricane warning for the South Carolina coast from the Savannah River to Little River Inlet.
Gaston, which formed southeast of Charleston on Friday, could bring 6 to 10 inches of rain to coastal areas. Tornadoes were possible, and a flood watch was issued for parts of South Carolina and North Carolina.
A tropical storm watch remained in effect from Little River Inlet north to Surf City, N.C.
Officials were concerned that Gaston seemed to be moving slower than Charley.
Residents are “going to be faced with rains and winds for much longer periods of time,” said Roland Windham, Charleston County administrator.
In the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Frances strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds nearing 135 mph, but it was not expected to threaten land soon.
Frances was moving northwest near 9 mph with sustained winds near 135 mph. Her center was about 590 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the southeastern Caribbean.
Frances is the third major hurricane of the Atlantic season, following Alex and Charley.
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