EDISTO BEACH — After touring the damage left behind by Tropical Storm Irma, Gov. Henry McMaster said Thursday he was glad he had ordered an evacuation for this barrier island.
“The water was high and it came in fast,” he said. “We were very deliberate with our decision-making process and … I think we got it called right.”
McMaster, accompanied by S.C. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall, Edisto Mayor Jane Darby and others, rode the island from Edisto Beach State Park to the Wyndham Ocean Ridge resort, stopping to get out of the car several times to inspect Irma's wrath.
“Edisto was hit pretty hard,” he said during a press conference afterward. “But what you see here is a good example. We didn’t have anybody hurt. There were the proper warnings, and they had the proper communication. I think the people listened pretty well and responded properly and it was a well-planned and well-organized and well-executed response to a hurricane.”
McMaster said he has been in touch with federal officials, but it could take weeks or months for statewide damage assessments that could lead to federal relief.
Edisto was the recipient of such relief last year in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
After the island took the brunt of the storm’s wrath, the beach was shored up by a $19 million renourishment project that included some FEMA money.
But by Tuesday, much of that sand was on Palmetto Boulevard.
Waves started crashing over the dunes and onto the main thoroughfare Monday about two hours before the midday high tide. In all, about 6 feet of ocean washed over the roadway, leaving behind about 30 inches of sand.
Now, 60 Department of Transportation workers with heavy machinery are scooping it up, sifting out debris and returning it to the beach. Using state employees is saving time and money, Hall said.
By Thursday, they had removed about half the sand. Weather permitting, the roadway will be cleared and reopened by the end of the weekend, she said.
“They’ve been working hard on Palmetto, which is good because we need to get off the island to go to Ace Hardware,” said Walt Hawley, as he cleared branches from the yard of the home he and his wife rent each year.
The Hawleys, of upstate New York, arrived Sunday for their annual two-week stay, but instead hunkered down with friends a few blocks away to ride out Irma.
“I was on the screened porch, watching the trees blow around," he said. "It was interesting. I’ve never done that before.”
“We have ice storms instead,” added his wife, Marti.
McMaster ordered the evacuation of Edisto and seven other barrier islands on Saturday morning.
Residents started returning Tuesday afternoon, and by Wednesday, electricity was restored and nearly every home had been inspected for structural damage, with many bearing bright yellow signs proclaiming “restricted use.”
“There’s plenty of life at Edisto Beach,” McMaster said, gesturing toward the Ez Shop convenience store and Subway shop, where a steady stream of customers filled up on gas and food.
Darby said many state and local agencies responded to help the town return to normal.
“It’s a good example of how all the different people working together can respond to a storm and get back on their feet real quick,” she said. “Sometimes we may not agree, but when it comes down to a crisis, we join together and nobody’s going to defeat us.”
Edisto Beach State Park expects to reopen the beach, boat ramp, cabins and day-use areas by Sept. 22, said Duane Parrish, director of the parks department.
The campground, which just reopened earlier this month after being heavily damaged by Matthew, will take a little bit longer, he said.
Despite the historic flooding of 2015, Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, preparing for storms will never become business as usual, the governor said.
“You can never relax because you never know when a storm is coming,” he said. “That’s just part of life in South Carolina, but fortunately we are resilient. Our people are strong.”