Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg is asking residents of South Carolina’s largest city to stay home and out of harm’s way as Hurricane Ian heads to the city.
The storm had restrengthened into a hurricane on Thursday afternoon and is forecast to make landfall in the state on Friday.
Charleston is just the latest community in the path of the dangerous storm, which has devasted cities like Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Orlando, Florida.
“It’s going to feel like a hurricane around here tomorrow,” Mayor Tecklenburg said at a press conference on Thursday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the entire South Carolina coast as Ian turns back toward the mainland.
In the Charleston area, storm surge could reach up to seven feet (2.1 metres), with rainfall rates reaching up to 12 inches (30 centimetres), according to the National Hurricane Centre.
Low-lying areas could very well be flooded on Friday, Mr Tecklenburg said. The city is providing sandbags, as well as parking garage space for cars that might be flooded, he added.
“Take this storm seriously,” the mayor said, before urging residents to spend the rest of Thursday preparing for the storm, and then stay home on Friday.
Charleston public schools have been switched to remote learning for Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm, and city offices will be closed on Friday.
The city of Charleston sits right on the coast of South Carolina and much of it lies just above sea level. That low elevation puts much of the city at serious risk if a storm like Ian pushes water levels well above normal — as is projected to occur tomorrow.
“There will be water tomorrow in this city,” Mr Tecklenburg said.
In addition to the danger from storm surge, the city faces the long-term threat of inundation from sea level rise as the planet warms and ice sheets in Antarctica and the Arctic melt into the ocean.
With just three feet of sea level rise, much of downtown Charleston will be underwater, according to a city website. Under even the best-case scenarios for future greenhouse gas emissions, Charleston will see about three feet of sea level rise by the middle of the next century, according to Nasa.
Under the worst-case scenarios, seas in the city could rise nearly eight feet (2.36 meters) by that time.
Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida as a strong Category 4 storm, nearly Category 5, with wind speeds up to 150 miles per hour (241 kilometres per hour). The storm has devastated communities like Fort Myers and Cape Coral and spread further damage into the Orlando and Jacksonville areas after moving north.
As of Thursday afternoon, the death toll stands at at least a dozen people, but officials are still assessing the damage. President Biden said on Thursday that Ian could be the “deadliest” storm in Florida’s history.