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'Do not stay' Jasper County sheriff urges residents to evacuate

RIDGELAND, S.C. (WSAV) - Jasper County is slightly farther inland, but still in the danger zone of the storm.

The sheriff's office says they continue to make preparations for Hurricane Florence. With the risk of rain and flooding, officials taking this storm seriously.

"The governor lifted the mandatory evacuation because of the professionals, but I think at that point everyone took it lightly," said Sheriff Chris Malphrus.

He was very blunt, saying that if you did not follow the original mandatory evacuation order, you should think about leaving now.

"Jasper County is in a very unique position, we are a very rural area, we have somewhere between 28,000 and 30,000 people," explains Malphrus. "We have a sheriff's office staff of about 45. That's fine to handle our resources and handle our people, but if you look beyond that we have Beaufort County that has between 180-200,000 people."

With his 45 full-time deputies and 50 with reserves, the staff is having to balance their normal operations and keep up with those who are traveling across the county.

"That can be mass chaos when those particular places evacuate because we don't have the manpower or the resources to deal with that load," he explained.

During the storm, Malphrus says the department will stop responding to your calls if winds hit tropical storm force levels, about 35 miles per hour. He says he's not willing to risk his own deputies.

"So if you need EMS if you need law enforcement, fire department you will not get services at that point because it's too unsafe to put the lives of first responders on the line," he said.

Malphrus says the concern is great for people living in low lying areas where houses and roads are prone to flooding.

"You can't get out of your house, that becomes a major major ordeal," he said, adding, "Instead of property being at risk, lives are at risk."

For those who did evacuate from the county, Malphrus says not to be in a rush to come back. Utility crews will be working in the area to make sure power is on and water is stable and safe.

He reiterated that past storms have proven that water can be a major issue for the county and Florence could bring those same conditions.

"Do something with your animals and prepare to get out of this place," Malphrus said. "Do not stay, if you can leave... leave."


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