Two detention centers within South Carolina's mandatory evacuation zones said they will not relocate inmates — as millions of people evacuate the region ahead of Hurricane Florence's expected landfall on Friday.
Inmates at the Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County — which is in a flood zone and under mandatory evacuation — will not be evacuated, a spokesperson for the county's sheriff's office told BuzzFeed News.
Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 2 storm, will likely be "the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast," the National Weather Service warned, adding that the storm can cause "unbelievable damage."
Coastal areas in North Carolina and South Carolina will see continuous rainfall and could see life-threatening storm surge, flooding, and damaging winds before then, the National Weather Service said.
"The Detention Center can withstand sustained winds up to 155 mph," Roger Antonio, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office, said in a statement. "It is self-reliant and functional with generators in place to ensure security and safety needs."
The detention center houses 1,047 men and 119 women, according to the facility's website.
Antonio said the facility's overseeing doctor increased medical staffing ahead of the storm, adding that the detention center has never experienced "flooding issues or even water issues."
A spokesperson for the Berkeley County Detention Center also told BuzzFeed News the facility will not be evacuated.
"The facility is self-sustaining and safe," Mike Cochran, chief deputy for the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, told BuzzFeed News. "The county is larger than Rhode Island; it is not coastal or subject to any potential storm surge where the jail is at."
All of Berkeley County is under mandatory evacuation, a spokesperson for South Carolina Emergency Management Division said.
On Saturday, Cochran told BuzzFeed News that the facility had "almost no damage, no loss of power and very little rain," and that the governor had lifted the evacuation order.
"With nearly 500 inmates, they are far safer in the detention facility than they would be anywhere else," said Cochran.
People demonstrated outside the South Carolina State House on Wednesday, protesting the decision to not evacuate inmates at the MacDougall Correctional Institution even though it is in an evacuation zone. The prison is a level 2 security facility and housed 651 inmates, as of Saturday.
“Previously, it’s been safer to stay in place with the inmates rather than move to another location," Dexter Lee, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Corrections, told Vice News.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News Saturday, Lee noted that the prison was no longer in a mandatory evacuation zone, and said that the facility had not sustained major damage from Florence.
"The prison has power and there is no flooding or other storm-related damage," Lee said. "The agency is in constant contact with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. The agency will continue to monitor this storm."
South Carolina's Department of Corrections on Wednesday announced it will be evacuating inmates from the Palmer Pre-Release Center, a low-security facility, in advance of the storm, despite it not being in an evacuation zone.
According to the Post and Courier, the facility provides work crews to local governments and GED classes to inmates, and it lacks any fences. The head of the Department of Corrections told the newspaper the facility is "not equipped like prisons."