Even though the South Carolina coast was 200 miles or more from the eye of Tropical Storm Irma, the state's beaches and barrier islands did not escape her wrath.
All of them saw some degree of damage from high winds and rising water. In some cases, beach sand was carried several blocks inland.
Most communities were still assessing their situations at the end of the week, a process that officials said could take months.
After touring Edisto Island on Thursday, Gov. Henry McMaster said he expects many areas of the state to qualify for relief funds.
“There are certain thresholds that you have to reach in order to qualify for aid and we think that we will qualify for federal funding in a lot of categories,” he said.
For several communities, it was the second time in as many years they have had to rebuild. Last October, Hurricane Matthew made landfall as a Category 1 storm near McClellanville.
And the hits keep coming. This weekend, Tropical Storm Jose is expected to skirt the coast but forecasters said it would likely bring large waves and higher-than-normal tides to the area, possibly causing more erosion.
Hurricane season doesn't end until Nov. 30.
Here's how the Palmetto State's coastal communities fared:
Several streets flooded in the Myrtle Beach area during Irma, and there were reports of minor damage to buildings from the storm’s wide wind bands. Reports from the area didn’t suggest the same degree of damage as further down the coast.
On Pawleys Island, for instance, the storm lopped off dunes and pushed swaths of sand onto the roadways, Assistant Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. Some low-lying homes flooded as well, but the biggest problem was erosion, which will require sand scraping for the third year in a row to rebuild dunes, he said.
“It’s a lot of the same stuff we dealt with last year,” he said, referring to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. “But this was not as intense.”
Paul Gayes, director of Coastal Carolina University’s school of coastal and marine systems science in Conway, said the Grand Strand tends not to have as many nuisance flooding issues as places like Charleston because the area is at a higher elevation with a different landscape that is not surrounded by barrier islands and marshland.
“The Grand Strand is relatively high ground at the coast,” he said. “You can walk off the beach and be at 6 or 7 meters elevation pretty quickly.”
In Surfside Beach, the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting inspections of the Myrtle Beach Storm Damage Reduction Project, one of two federal efforts currently underway in the state. The other is on Folly Beach.
The Grand Strand project, begun in July, is expected to resume as soon as possible, said spokeswoman Glenn Jeffries. Because weather delays are built into the timeline, the project is still considered on schedule.
“The portion of the project that was completed pre-Hurricane Irma successfully did the job it was intended to do,” said Wes Wilson, project manager. “The people and property behind the dunes were protected from major damage.”
Edisto, others hard hit
Just before 8 p.m., on Sept. 8, the governor ordered the residents of eight barrier islands in Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper counties to evacuate starting at 10 a.m. the next day.
The southern coastal area of South Carolina was the only area under mandatory evacuation.
“The people listened pretty well and responded properly,” McMaster said this week.
Edisto, which took the brunt of Matthew last year, was one of the hardest hit areas along the coast.
This year, ocean water climbed over the dunes and spilled onto Palmetto Boulevard, depositing about 2½ feet of sand on top of the asphalt on the island’s main thoroughfare.
S.C. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said she expected the sand to be removed by Sunday.
The campground at the Edisto Beach State Park, which just opened earlier this month after extensive damage from Matthew, could be closed for a couple of months, state parks Director Duane Parrish said. The beach, boat ramp, cabins and day-use areas will open Friday.
Edisto’s neighbors, including Hilton Head Island, Beaufort and Daufuskie, also saw significant flooding from the storm surge.
Some boardwalks throughout Hilton Head remain closed, and the beach has lost a significant amount of sand, particularly in the South Beach area, officials said.
Initial safety anddamage assessments were completed, officials said Friday.
To help with cleanup, Hilton Head is allowing homeowners to burn yard waste from sunrise to sunset on Saturdays in September with a town-issued permit and certain restrictions.
On Friday, many areas of Beaufort County still had standing water, but it was drying up quickly, officials said.
Charleston area islands
Scenes of recovery at Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms included water-soaked upholstered furniture and storm debris awaiting pick-up alongside residential streets. People were trickling back to the beaches. Restaurants and stores were open.
Irma delivered the worst storm surge on the islands in recent memory.
“It was much worse than Matthew,” said Folly resident Tracy Grooms. “Matthew we could clean up in a day.”
She and her husband, Billy Grooms, were sweeping, raking and hauling debris. Their home was fine because it sat high up on pilings above the flood. The Grooms said their post-storm problems were minor compared to the suffering in Florida where some nursing home residents succumbed in stifling heat for lack of air conditioning.
“This is hard work but it’s not a tragedy,” she said.
Things are getting better at Folly for everything but the beach, said Spencer Wetmore, Folly city administrator.
“In general the stormwater is receding,” she said.
The Army Corps surveyed the beach Friday to determine how much sand was lost. Because of Irma, the city will request additional emergency federal funding to restore dunes already damaged by hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew. The erosion affects most of the beach, she said.
Short-term, Folly has already made a lot of progress. Piles of marsh vegetation that Irma's storm surge left on Folly Road have been removed and debris in residential streets has been swept clean. The county park pier is open again.
Much remains to be done. Some beach access boardwalks suffered extensive damage. One access point at the east end of the island is closed.
“It’s going to be a long process,” Wetmore said.
On Sullivan’s, standing water remained in low-lying areas on some streets and in yards. A few roads to public beach paths were flooded. The town said Irma storm surge covered half the island at the height of the event.
Just off Middle Street, resident Sallie Pritchard said she had three feet of water in her yard that made its way into the garage.
“If that’s the worst that happens it’s not a big deal,” she said.
Sullivan’s is in the process of an island-wide damage assessment and is awaiting word on a FEMA-funded debris collection effort. The water distribution system and wastewater treatment plant are working fine, the town website says.
Charleston County Mosquito Abatement has already been on the island to view the areas of standing water. In the coming days there will be early morning truck and aircraft operations to reduce the mosquito population.
At Isle of Palms, storm surge left deep scars and debris at Breach Inlet. Some flooding remained on Ocean Boulevard where piles of roadside debris awaited pick-up.
“This was like a river,” she resident Sherry Bayne of her street. “Our houses were islands.”
Her Saturn was drying in the hot sun with doors open. The good news was it was still running despite water that seeped past the floorboard. Her house near the Intracoastal Waterway was safe from the flood because it sits high on stilts.
“We’re fine. There are worse off people,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford toured the island's storm damage Friday.
Isle of Palms began emergency beach work because several areas lost their primary dune protection. They are Breach Inlet to 10th Avenue, 56th Avenue to near Seascape in Wild Dunes as well as Beachwood East and Ocean Club in the gated resort. The work should take a few weeks.
All island roads are open although some still have water on them. Some of the beach access paths are flooded. The city is working on freeing drains of clutter and vegetation to reduce flooding and restore beach access paths and walkovers.