MYRTLE BEACH — When the rain lightened, the winds subsided and the dark clouds brightened late Saturday, the SkyWheel in Myrtle Beach still stood.
Surf shops were still emblazoned with signs advertising merchandise no pricier than $5.99. A beachside motel still touted color TV. Boulineau’s grocery store remained a meeting place in North Myrtle Beach, where locals can wash down fried chicken and collard greens with bacon soda.
Relief ruled the day as Tropical Storm Florence eased away from the Grand Strand, which was left largely the same place as the day the system arrived as a hurricane. Thousands of residents remained in darkened homes as utility crews picked up downed trees and limbs. But some stoplights that had lost power blinked red and green again, even as some sat on the ground after being ripped from their moorings by the storm’s 60-mph gusts.
Two years ago, Hurricane Matthew had taken away a popular fishing pier on the Grand Strand when the Category 1 storm made landfall to the south. But Elaine Hughes, who lives close to the 2nd Avenue Pier in Myrtle Beach, emerged from her nearby house Saturday and saw it still standing. Other piers along the stretch of sand also made it through, despite violent surf that battered their pylons Saturday.
“We feel that we are very, very blessed to be here and not sustain any more problems, any more damage than we had,” said Hughes, whose frame rocked in the stiff onshore wind as she clutched her boyfriend's hand.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster announced that the evacuation order would be lifted at 9 a.m. Sunday for Horry and Georgetown counties. It was announced earlier in the day it had been lifted for coastal counties in the southern half of the state. Many traffic lights, including those on a long stretch of Ocean Boulevard, remained dim. Some side streets were resurfaced with pine needles, oak leaves and twigs, though larger debris had been removed. Some power lines still dangled dangerously over streets or stretched across the pavement.
'Get back to normal'
Even as authorities urged people to stay home, many emerged to photograph the downed trees and rough waves. Traffic again whirred by at a steady clip on the main streets. They encountered little flooding, though some parts of North Myrtle Beach’s low-lying Cherry Grove area saw nearly a foot of water. One storm chaser from the WeatherNation forecast service stooped down to take pictures of the water that came up to his shins.
Local resident Guy Covington took stock of the erosion that carved a 3-foot cliff into the beach near the SkyWheel, the 187-foot ferris wheel in the heart of Myrtle Beach whose gondolas were removed in preparation for Florence. It was a sad sight, especially for the beaches that had been renourished with sand, Covington said.
“It could have been worse,” he said. “We lost sand. ... We lost trees and garbage cans.”
“And that’s plenty,” said Lynn Williams of Hartsville, who surveyed the scene with Covington. “That’s enough.”
“Thank God that was it,” Covington agreed.
Storm surge, once predicted to rise to as high as 6 feet above normal tides, did not reach that forecast level. Water covered only a portion of Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach at high tide late Friday, depositing sand and shells in the street but causing no visibly extensive damage.
In neighborhoods, rocking chairs and recycling receptacles were relocated by the wind. Swing sets were toppled.
Some residents were determined to restore normalcy after days of anticipation for a storm that rocked coastal areas of North Carolina but passed here with less fury than expected.
Tim Monaco had slept on an air mattress at The Waterway House, his Myrtle Beach restaurant, as the wind howled outside. He wanted to watch his food supplies if the power went out. And it did, he said, but it came back on a half-hour later, and his freezers roared back to life — a relief.
On Saturday, he hefted a power drill and unscrewed the plywood from a window, revealing the open sign for his bar and grill. He planned to welcome customers back that afternoon for pizza, meatballs and chicken wings. He also would need to reinstall an awning that fell during the storm — an easy fix.
“It’s extremely important to get back to normal,” he said.
Happy and grateful
Many here noted that they had to look closely to find damage: siding ripped from homes, shingles that flew off roofs and into the streets, stucco peeled away from a building near the Windsurfer Hotel in Myrtle Beach.
Residents, though, did miss some small comforts of life.
Martha Schreus lives on a marina in Little River, a small community just across the waterway from North Myrtle Beach. Her power went out Thursday, and she had been without hot coffee since then.
Like many locals, she went to Boulineau’s, an IGA store in the heart of North Myrtle Beach’s Cherry Grove area. Many shelves there were bare of items like milk and bread.
She joked that she had risked her life to cross the Intracoastal Waterway bridge just for coffee. And when she got there, she found a crowded parking lot of people carting off chips, beer and ice.
But no hot coffee. She settled for chocolate. She pulled contents from a plastic bag and held up the Kit Kat bars.
Schreus sat on a bench sheltered from the falling rain outside the store and watched others carry away wine and battery-power radios. Her predicament, she said, could be much worse.
“It’s by no means what we had been waiting to happen,” she said. “We are very happy for that. And grateful.”