COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – On Monday, Governor McMaster held a media briefing following a period of severe weather that heedlessly tore through the state in the midst of a global pandemic.
The New Disaster:
McMaster said that in the wake of the storms, SC is facing “a new disaster,” adding that he is considering the possibility of an additional disaster declaration. He visited some of the areas most heavily damaged by tornadoes and strong storms, saying “I don’t really know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.”
A spokesperson for the National Weather Service (NWS) said that this streak of severe weather was the worst in SC since March of 2008. The state has confirmed nine fatalities so far.
NWS teams are still surveying across the state and say that it is too early to give a confirmed tornado count, but noted evidence of multiple EF-2 tornadoes, including a confirmed EF-1, possibly EF-2 in Edisto. The most severe weather reported so far was an EF-3 tornado in the Seneca area.
A spokesperson from the Emergency Management Division said that most counties statewide sustained at least some damage. Among those hardest hit were Aiken, Berkeley, Colleton, Oconee, Orangeburg, and Pickens.
The Department of Transportation reports that statewide, there were around 2,500 trees down across roads, about 30% of which involved trees in power lines. They expect about 70% of roads to be open before Tuesday.
When asked about those displaced by the weather, McMaster cautioned that social distancing guidelines should still be followed. Officials say that they do not believe it will be “horrendous” in terms of finding people shelter; they expect most people to stay with family and friends. Those that do require assistance from the Red Cross will likely be put up in hotels, as opposed to community shelters, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Old Disaster:
SC is still facing the difficulties brought about by COVID-19. McMaster said that an economic revitalization plan is in the works, and details are expected to be released soon. While McMaster acknowledged the need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and that safety is the number one priority, he said that once the pandemic ends, “we have to have an economy to go back to.”
Forced business closures have caused unemployment numbers to skyrocket. McMaster encouraged people to apply for state unemployment benefits, and said that improvements have been made to the program. They have added to the workforce, which they hope will increase system capacity. Ultimately, McMaster assured citizens that “anything people are entitled to will be given to them.”
In terms of who has the authority to reopen the state economy, McMaster said that President Trump and his administration control a lot of resources, but he [President Trump] is relying on governors to give him the information he needs to make decisions. McMaster said that the president is not pressuring him on any decisions, and that he is confident they will be on the same page.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reports that currently, SC hospitals are at 51% capacity. They also reported that of those tested for COVID-19, around 10% have tested positive.
The ‘Donated Goods System,’ which is used during hurricanes, has been activated in response to the need for personal protective equipment (PPE). Those interested in donating can visit the SC Emergency Management Division’s website, or call (803) 737-8518.