COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Latest on preparations for Hurricane Irma in South Carolina (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

Officials in South Carolina’s southernmost coastal county are recommending people leave before any official evacuation is ordered for Hurricane Irma.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said Thursday that leaving before an official evacuation allows people to travel any direction they like.

Tanner says he expects a state-ordered evacuation by Saturday morning as Irma threatens South Carolina. At that point, the sheriff says traffic will be limited to only specific routes.

Tanner says while Beaufort County saw six hours of tropical storms winds in Hurricane Matthew in October, it is forecast to see nearly 24 hours of winds over 40 mph in Irma.

Authorities say ferries will continue to Daufuskie Island to get the 650 residents to the mainland until noon Sunday.


4:15 p.m.

Gov. Henry McMaster is ordering more than 140 health care facilities in coastal South Carolina counties to evacuate their patients ahead of a potential strike from Hurricane Irma.

McMaster signed an executive order Thursday afternoon requiring hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers and other in-patient facilities in eight counties to immediately begin moving their patients inland.

McMaster is also requiring owners of 2,370 public and private dams to lower their lake water levels. He says state workers have the authority to release the water if owners won’t. That order is aimed at preventing a repeat of October 2015, when bursting and overflowing dams amid historic rainfalls worsened deadly flooding.

McMaster has not yet ordered coastal residents to leave their homes, but he says that could come Friday.

If he makes the order, then it will take effect at 10 a.m. Saturday. Lane reversals on several major highways including Interstate 26 between Charleston and Columbia would then allow only out-bound traffic.

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3:15 p.m.

Gov. Henry McMaster says he is considering evacuation orders for parts of South Carolina as Hurricane Irma threatens.

McMaster said he will decide Friday whether to ask people to leave the coast. If he does order an evacuation, lanes on Interstate 26 and other evacuation routes would be reversed starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The National Weather Service says its forecast is not set in stone, but much of South Carolina could experience rain and wind from Irma on Monday. The storm surge could go over barrier islands near where the eye of the storm comes ashore.

McMaster also signed two executive orders Thursday. One orders nursing homes and hospitals in eight counties on or near the coast to evacuate.

The other requires dam owners to evaluate whether their lake levels can be safely lowered.


1:25 p.m.

Communities all along South Carolina’s coast are getting ready for Hurricane Irma.

In Beaufort County, officials are closing all offices at noon Friday.

Charleston County schools and surrounding systems are cancelling classes from Friday until Tuesday.

In Myrtle Beach, Fire Chief Alvin Payne says he is breathing easier with forecasts steady in showing Irma coming ashore between Hilton Head Island and Charleston. But he says residents should not let their guard down yet and evacuations could still be necessary.

Gov. Henry McMaster has yet to issue any evacuation orders.

Officials along South Carolina’s coast are most worried about storm surge. Forecasters have not given a prediction on how high the water may rise. But they do say tropical storm force winds could arrive on the South Carolina coast as early as Sunday evening.


10 a.m.

The threat posed by Hurricane Irma has prompted officials at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor to drop all tours.

Dawn Davis with the Fort Sumter National Monument said in a news release Thursday that no tour boats will make the trip from Charleston or Mount Pleasant out to the fort until after the threat of the storm has passed.

The National Hurricane Center has said that Irma could hit South Carolina early next week.

The Fort Sumter National Monument marks the spot where the first shots were fired in the Civil War in 1861.

Gov. Henry McMaster on Wednesday declared a state of emergency and said evacuations might be ordered on Friday.


7:50 a.m.

Leaders at Joint Base Charleston say they are monitoring the approaching Hurricane Irma and are reviewing checklists of storm preparations.

Capt. Leah Brading said in a news release Wednesday night that base officials are reviewing plans to secure equipment. Brading said the Air Force is also considering the evacuation of its aircraft, personnel and their families.

She said base officials are working with state and local authorities about the possibility of evacuation.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued a state of emergency Wednesday as the state prepares for a possible landfall early next week. McMaster has not ordered evacuations but said that could happen Friday.

Adjutant General Robert Livingston said National Guardsmen have not yet been activated, but soldiers helping with Hurricane Harvey in Texas are returning to South Carolina.


7:30 a.m.

South Carolina officials are urging residents to prepare for Hurricane Irma, which the National Hurricane Center says could strike the state early next week.

Gov. Henry McMaster on Wednesday declared a state of emergency because of the storm already responsible for at least 10 deaths in the Caribbean.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. said Wednesday it’s releasing water from Lake Murray northwest of Columbia to reduce the possibility of flooding when Irma’s rains arrive.

The utility warned residents and those who use the lake and Saluda River for recreation of fluctuating water levels.

The city of Charleston said a limited number of free sandbags would be available Thursday for residents hoping to keep flood waters out of their homes and businesses. Residents are limited to 10 bags each.