EDISTO BEACH — It took Mayor Jane Darby most of Tuesday morning to see how her small island community fared during Tropical Storm Irma, and she was pleased to learn the worst part was that Palmetto Boulevard, the main drag, was covered by a few feet of sand.
Darby said the picture looked much brighter than what the island faced after Hurricane Matthew last year. That storm's winds and torrential rains packed a more debilitating punch that claimed a beachfront home, dozens of large trees and dumped even more sand on the roads.
By contrast, some island property owners and business employees were allowed back Tuesday afternoon, even though the power was out.
"We are very grateful that Irma was a much nicer person than Matthew," she said. "Matthew was a prolonged event. This came — and it was nasty — but it was a much shorter duration."
The island was protected by a $19 million beach renourishment project completed shortly after Matthew struck, but much of that new sand washed a few blocks inland where crews will have to scoop it up, sift out debris and then return it to the beach.
Once that work is done in the coming months, Darby said she is hopeful the beach would be about the same width as before.
"It (the sand) may be rearranged but we hope most of what was here stayed," she said.
Darby said those returning to the island should be prepared to be without power for some time. The water system was shut down briefly Tuesday afternoon and septic systems also are stressed, she said.
Police Chief George Brothers said officials went door to door to check on those who declined to evacuate. He said about 140 people at first indicated they would but that number kept dropping through the weekend until Monday morning.
One person who stayed was former Mecklenburg County Sheriff Chip Bailey, who said he would have evacuated to his son's home in Charlotte if Irma was forecast to give the island a harder hit.
"I told my wife: why would we drive 4½ hours in evacuation traffic to get the same kind of weather?" he said, adding he was only nervous when the storm surge reached his yard back from the beach and threatened his cars, which ended up being unharmed.
"I was glad we're here so we could get started with the cleanup. As storms go, we were very blessed."
Returning island residents were cautioned about plugging their golf carts back in under their house. That's what started a fire last fall after Hurricane Matthew that claimed a second home, Brothers said.
Inland parts of Edisto had little to no damage. Pink Brown opened the vegetable stand she owns with her husband George as usual Tuesday morning, though the lack of power meant her tomato pies and ice cream treats were perishing.
"I'll lose everything in the cooler," she said. But if last year's hurricane was a 10, Brown said Irma was only a 4. "This is global warming," she added. "They got to tell Trump."
Ted Clamp, owner of the Serpentarium, said his attraction didn't suffer like last year, when Matthew blew two trees over onto his building. But Irma's surge did push salt water into some of his freshwater pools.
"The salt water is not going to hurt them immediately," he said of his many alligators. "I'll just have to pump it out."
A fallen tree blocked access Tuesday to the Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area on the northern tip, though the road to the Edisto Beach Interpretive Center was clear.
The city of Beaufort suffered similar damage to Charleston, as the storm surge flooded its Waterfront Park with a few feet of water and briefly cut off access to town on U.S. Highway 21, Mayor Billy Keyserling said.
"We have a lot of people who would like to blame the stormwater system," he said. "But there was just no place for the water to go. The water was to Irma as the fallen trees were to Matthew. They were very different in their own way."
Gov. Henry McMaster lifted his evacuation orders for Beaufort County's barrier islands, though damage to the roadway just north of the Harbour Island bridge is expected to restrict access to Harbour, Hunting and Fripp islands. The county's convenience centers, library branches and recreation facilities are scheduled to reopen Wednesday.
Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett posted a brief message Tuesday morning headlined, "Irma is gone. Come back home." The island's hospital planned to resume normal operations in its emergency room, and crews were working to restore power to about 1,500 homes.