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SC municipalities distribute sandbags during hurricane season to control flooding

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Residents fill sandbags at the Charleston Environmental Services building ahead of Tropical Storm Isaias' arrival. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

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When tropical weather threatens the Palmetto State, it is not uncommon for municipalities to make sandbags available for residents to protect their homes and buildings from water intrusion.

This is convenient for people because it is illegal to remove sand from some of South Carolina's beaches.

Glenn Jeffries, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers Charleston district, said sand should not be removed from a beach without first coordinating with federal, state and local government for necessary permissions.

In cities like Myrtle Beach, violators who remove sand from public beaches and parks can be charged with a misdemeanor, up to a $500 fine and possibly 30 days in jail. 

In 2018, Horry County Emergency Management issued a notice reminding folks of this law after hearing that hardware stores were directing people to the beach to fill their sandbags. 

Mark Kruea, the public information officer for the city of Myrtle Beach, said every 10 years or so, the city spends millions of dollars for beach renourishment.

"So it's definitely not a good idea to take sand off the beach," Kruea said. "That's our first line of defense in the event of a hurricane."

And frankly, Kruea said, there is no reason to do so. If there is a serious hurricane threat, municipalities will often provide sand and sandbags for residents to help them protect their properties. 

According to the Army Corps, sandbagging is one of the most versatile flood-fighting tools and is an effective way to prevent or reduce floodwater damage. 

In preparation for major storms, Berkeley County's roads and bridges department will get washed sand from various vendors and distribute it around the county to municipalities and fire departments. When the washed sand is no longer available, the county will use fill dirt from a local dirt pit. 

Ahead of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the county delivered more than 49,250 sandbags and more than 1,260 tons of sand to 26 locations, spokeswoman Hannah Moldenhauer said.

In the city of Charleston, residents who want sandbags are provided with 10 bags and are required to shovel the sand themselves. The city makes sand available at several locations, including on James Island, in the parking lot of the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park and the Governor's Park dog park under Interstate 526.

The city of Charleston has 90,000 sandbags on hand and ready to be filled. The city has not had to supply sandbags for a storm since Isaias approached the area in 2020, according Matt Alltop, superintendent of environmental service, streets and sidewalks.

There are also other remedies for fighting small floods. The Army Corps said readily available straw bales are an economical alternative. In the case of a flood, the water will cause the straw to swell and make the bales heavier and watertight. 

But if sandbags are your go-to method for flood management, experts recommend residents put them around areas that could be entryways for water, such as doors, basements and garage windows.

The bags are only intended for a small amount of water-flow protection — up to 2 feet. 

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.

Follow Shamira McCray on Twitter @ShamiraTweets.

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