COLUMBIA- The estimated cost of last month's winter storm in South Carolina is over a half-billion dollars and it will still be months before the damage is cleaned up.
The state Department of Transportation says cleaning the roads in 19 counties hard hit by the ice and snow of the mid-February storm alone could cost more than $160 million and the work likely won't be done until June. And a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Division said Friday that it will be years before the final price tag of the storm is known.
Transportation officials said this week that 725 contract crews are still cleaning trees, branches and other debris from roads and highways. About 4,300 miles have been cleared, but the job is expected to take another 80 days. The debris includes more than 460,000 trees leaning or with broken branches hanging over highways.
On Wednesday, the White House approved South Carolina's request for federal disaster relief for 21 of the state's 46 counties. That means state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations can get federal help for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged between Feb. 10 and Feb. 14.
The storm left up to an inch of ice that snapped trees across a wide swath of the state and dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the Upstate. At one point, power was out to 350,000 electric customers.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Gov. Nikki Haley wrote damage and storm response costs incurred by governments and electric cooperatives exceeded $54 million.
Berkeley and Dorchester were among the counties suffering the most severe electric infrastructure damage, the governor said in her request, and Colleton and Dorchester were among the counties with the greatest amount of storm debris per capita.
Meanwhile, forestry officials say the storm caused $360 million in damage to the state's forestlands, an amount equaling the state's total timber harvest in a year. Private insurance claims from the storm are estimated to be at least $15 million.
Derrec Becker of the state Emergency Management Division said Friday that it could be a couple years before the final cost of storm damage and response is calculated. He noted that the books on Hurricane Hugo, which smashed into the state with 135 mph winds back in 1989, weren't closed until 2006.
The storm did about $6 billion damage on the U.S. mainland, most of it in South Carolina.
In this photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, broken tree limbs hang over the road and branches litter the shoulders of US Route 17A near Georgetown, S.C. The state Department of Transportation has more than 300 contract crews out clearing debris from highways around the state. A state emergency official said Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 that, while figures are still being compiled, damage from the storm will likely qualify sections of the state for designation as a federal disaster area - the first such designation in almost a decade. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)×