Still, Becky Gerald said she planned to remain on the island if Irma wasn’t forecast to hit as a major storm: “There’s just things I can’t save. I have all my mother’s antiques. You spend your whole life working hard and in a flash it’s all gone.”

No evacuations had been declared yet in South Carolina, which was last hit by a major hurricane about 28 years ago. Gov. Henry McMaster could order coastal residents to evacuate their homes starting Saturday morning — his state already prepared to open 200 shelters and transport 10,000 people by bus if needed.

The biggest question seemed to be not whether he would issue an order, but what counties would be included — depending on the next forecasts.

“If you can leave now, go ahead,” McMaster told a news conference Thursday. “A lot more people on the roads are going to slow things down.”

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper told people to prepare even as projections had a weakened Irma entering the state well inland early next week.

“This storm can impact any part of North Carolina — all over our state from the mountains to the coast,” Cooper said. “Just because that it might be at tropical-storm strength doesn’t mean this storm isn’t going to be very dangerous.”

Ed Putnam wasn’t taking chances. He drove to St. Helena Island in coastal South Carolina with a truckload of supplies to get his cabin, boat and sailboat storm-ready — but wasn’t sticking around after seeing footage of Irma’s Caribbean devastation.

“I’ve seen the videos of what happened to those poor people on those islands,” Putnam said. “If this is as strong as they say it is going to be, then there is no choice. Your life is more important than anything else.”


Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins and Seanna Adcox in Columbia, South Carolina contributed to this report.