County crews expect 4 weeks of cleanup work after Johns Island tornado

Work crews from Charleston County remove debris from Sonny Boy Lane Monday afternoon from a tornado touched down last Friday.

Work crews will need up to four weeks to haul away the debris that a half-mile-wide tornado left behind in Johns Island and West Ashley neighborhoods, a Charleston County official said Monday.

The county’s Public Works Department removed about 100 truckloads of downed trees and construction material on Sunday alone, Director Jim Neal said.

The department is leading collection efforts on Sonny Boy Lane and Fickling Hill Road, some of the hardest-hit communities on northern Johns Island. State Department of Transportation crews were cleaning up areas near Brownswood and Old Pond roads.

The EF-2 tornado, an unusually powerful twister for the Lowcountry, tore through the area as a severe thunderstorm rolled off the Atlantic Ocean early Friday morning. With advance warning from federal forecasters, no one was hurt, but the storm left a mess that some areas will need months to recover from.

“There is a lot of debris,” Neal said. “Most of the live oaks on Fickling Hill Road are gone or have so few branches left that they won’t survive.”

County officials were still working to come up with a monetary estimate for the damage, spokesman Shawn Smetana said Monday. At least one home was destroyed, and several others were severely damaged. The twister damaged up to 80 homes, ripping off roofs, peeling away siding and breaking windows.

Since the tornado leveled most of their home on Sonny Boy Lane, John and Julie Bercik spent the weekend hauling away keepsake remnants of the brick house and turning away construction contractors who offered rebuilding services. Like many residents, they continue to wait for word about how much their insurance provider will contribute to a replacement for their home.

But they also have found some solace in the kindness of others. A friend and colleague started a GoFundMe.com fundraising account that had accumulated $12,000 for the couple by late Monday afternoon.

Julie Bercik’s co-workers at Trumpf Medical Systems offered their muscles, helping the pair relocate their remaining possessions to a rental house. She uncovered a battered hope chest that her father once gave to her mother.

The couple hope to someday rebuild on the property.

“We planned on staying there until we retired,” Julie Bercik said. “It’s devastating. But you just have to take it in stride and do they best you can.

“Everybody has been unreal in helping us.”

To residents conducting their own cleanup projects, Neal asked that they separate the branches and other natural wood from construction material, such as insulation, boards, drywall and broken glass. Crews will collect the roadside refuse, grind up the wood to convert it to mulch and haul away the rest to the county landfill, he said.

The county’s work has focused on the area of near River and Brownswood roads that was the most devastated, Neal said. Along Fickling Hill Road and Sonny Boy Lane, crews anticipate clearing 5,000 to 10,000 cubic yards of debris, he said.

Later, their attention will shift to other areas along the twister’s 7-mile path, including communities near Cane Slash Road, along with Main Road and Savannah Highway in West Ashley.

With 12-hour shifts, they hope to finish in three to four weeks, Neal said. For safety reasons, he urged only local residents to use the area roads and for outsiders to check with the county or state DOT before offering to volunteer their time in the cleanup.

“People are coming out and helping. I’ve seen residents being cheerful,” he said. “We just want everyone to be safe. … You never know if a tree limb is going to fall down on your head.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.