Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Recovery efforts spread across the city as Charleston cleans up after Irma

Evacuations lifted for barrier islands

Posted by Dustin Waters on Tue, Sep 12, 2017 at 3:22 PM

click to enlarge Rescue crews pull a boat along a flooded South Battery Street on Monday, Sept. 11 - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Rescue crews pull a boat along a flooded South Battery Street on Monday, Sept. 11
As Charleston scrapes away the remnants of Monday’s storm and continues to slowly dry out, the focus has turned to assessing the damage left behind by Tropical Storm Irma.

More than 200 city employees are set to spread out across Charleston Tuesday, while crews continue to remove debris from roadways. Over the course of the storm, 111 roads were closed across the city due to toppled trees and flooding. As of 11 a.m., 15 roads remains closed to traffic and crews are currently working to repair 33 inoperable traffic signals.

As the effects of Irma reached the Lowcountry, two Charleston County shelters were opened in North Charleston. On Tuesday, the city of Charleston reported that the 142 residents housed in local shelters had returned to their neighborhoods to determine what, if any, impact Irma may have left behind.

“Sandy, my wife, and I this morning have been riding all over the city. Even on the occasion of this adversity, the remnants, the aftermath of this storm Irma, we’re uplifted by the spirit of our citizens of Charleston. They’re out this morning helping their neighbors and checking on each other and cleaning up already and putting things back in order,” said Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who said the damage from Irma was comparable to what Charleston experienced during Hurricane Matthew.

As of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, SCE&G reported almost 11,000 power outages across Charleston County, where full power is expected to be restored no later than this weekend. According to acting Charleston Police Chief Jerome Taylor, there was no major crime reported during the storm, and fire crews responded to approximately 100 service calls across the city.

On Tuesday morning, Gov. Henry McMaster lifted evacuation orders on eight of the state’s southern barrier islands leading up to the storm’s impact, but residents are only allowed restricted access to Fripp Island, Hunting Island, Harbor Island, and Edisto Beach as determined by local officials.

click to enlarge Floodwaters continued to rise along the Battery on Monday as the peninsula experienced the third-highest tide ever recorded at Charleston Harbor - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Floodwaters continued to rise along the Battery on Monday as the peninsula experienced the third-highest tide ever recorded at Charleston Harbor
The highest winds during Monday’s severe weather were recorded at Parris Island (76 miles per hour), Folly Beach (72 miles per hour), and Sullivan’s Island (68 miles per hour).

Four deaths in South Carolina have been attributed to the storm. According to McMaster, a 57-year-old Abbeville man was fatally struck by a tree limb and a 21-year-old Florida motorist was in a fatal two-vehicle collision on Interstate 77. The Associated Press has also reported that a 48-year-old city worker for Columbia died after driving off the road during heavy rains, and in Sumter County, a 54-year-old man was pronounced dead from carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator inside of his home.

More than a dozen Charleston residents were rescued from floods Monday by the city’s joint Police and Fire Water Rescue Response Team, who traveled along the inundated streets downtown. On Tuesday, Gov. McMaster stated that his decision not to order an evacuation of Charleston was influenced by the presence of more reliable evacuation routes from the peninsula compared to the barrier islands, as well as “economic” factors.

“Evacuating an entire city is something you have to take great caution doing because there’s a lot of economic impact to such a thing and under the circumstances we believed then and believe now that the warning we gave repeatedly of storm surges in excess of 4-6 feet was the right way to do it,” said the governor. “That turned out to be precisely the case.”

No serious injuries were reported in Charleston, where storm surge and large high tides led to severe flooding and the third largest tide every recorded at Charleston Harbor, almost reaching 10 feet. Mayor Tecklenburg supported the governor’s decision not to order an evacuation of the city after seeing the western shift that then-Hurricane Irma took as it struck Florida.

“It was really uniquely a broad and large storm, but I believe he made the right call,” Tecklenburg said Tuesday, adding that he would reassess how early local shelters are opened in the absence of an order of evacuation.

City officials are currently working to finalize plans to raise the Low Battery where rising tides topped the seawall, filling White Point Garden. That ongoing project centers on raising the Low Battery to protect against an estimated 2.5 feet of sea-level rise over the coming decades. Mayor Tecklenburg said Tuesday that a possible design for the project based on public input will be presented in the coming month.

“Once we make that presentation, we’re going to go through our regular procurement process to get that project started,” he said. “Understand, that’s a multi-year project that will be done, probably, in four or five different phases over time.”

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