A man was cutting up a fallen tree Saturday on Kentwood Circle | Credit: Andy Brack

The Lowcountry dodged a big hurricane bullet 33 years and a week after Hurricane Hugo.

When Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg went to bed Thursday night, he said he believed the storm that killed more than 100 in Florida would make landfall on or near the city’s peninsula.
But it didn’t follow predictions, steering north at the last moment to slam into the South Carolina coast 55 miles northeast of Charleston in Georgetown County. It had sustained winds of 85 mph that knocked down beach piers, tumbled dunes and flooded streets.

While not as vicious here as expected, the Category 1 storm still brought harrowing winds and several inches of rain all day Friday to communities from Folly Beach to Summerville to Mount Pleasant. By Saturday, the storm cleanup began at an institutional level along streets and in tens of thousands of yards in residential neighborhoods along the coast.

Tecklenburg on Saturday admitted the Holy City was lucky the worst of Ian veered away as it approached. He correctly predicted the city would quickly be back to normal. “We are a resilient city,” he said.

During a Saturday briefing, Gov. Henry McMaster said no one in South Carolina died during the storm.

“We know that some people lost some things, we know some property was damaged and we know that some schedules were upended,” the governor said. “But at the end of the day, South Carolina stood strong.”

Clear, blue Saturday skies

In contrast to Friday’s all-around weather nastiness in Charleston, Saturday morning brought clear, blue skies, crisp temperatures and sunshine as a recovery crew sawed a limb that fell across a power line at South Windermere shopping center and cut off power to the adjacent neighborhood.

According to Dominion Energy, about 110,000 of its S.C. customers lost power Friday at the peak of the storm. All but 15,000 customers had power back within 18 hours. By Sunday, all customers had power again, a spokesman said. Berkeley Electric Cooperative said 36,000 of its Tri-county customers lost power in the storm, but had the lights back on Saturday night, thanks in part to more than 200 line crew members from other cooperatives around the region.

“When things are at their worst is when coops are at their best,” said Libby Roerig, Berkeley Electric’s communications manager.

On Saturday after the storm, cars and trucks drove along messy streets on Folly Beach and sent standing water spewing onto lawns. Residents walked stir-crazy dogs to get out of homes that had been without power for almost 24 hours. “Gotta do something,” one woman said.
Eva Williamson of Rock Hill, who braved the storm in a friend’s beach house on Cooper Street, said Ian wasn’t too bad as she swept a concrete driveway. At least now, she noted, she’s gone through a hurricane.

A few miles away on James Island, a man chainsawed an oak tree that fell onto Kentwood Circle. A neighbor was thankful that water didn’t get into his home.

“The storm wouldn’t have gotten us at all if it wasn’t for the people driving along the street,” said Ryan Kohlhepp, who explained how cars driving too fast on standing water during the storm splashed waves of water that got past sandbags into his garage.“People just need to be more mindful.”

After such a long, gloomy Friday, crisp air and sunshine made Charleston’s marshes pop, reflecting a brilliant chartreuse from grasses and silvery blue on streams. Other than leaves scattered on soggy yards, it was a Chamber of Commerce morning.

“We were lucky as all get-out,” Tecklenburg told the City Paper on Saturday. “There’s no question about it. I was nervous as hell the day before yesterday. Even after the track had changed so many times with this unpredictable storm, we were less than 24 hours out and the best information we had was the track was coming over Folly Beach and straight to the peninsula of Charleston.”

The mayor said he knew things wouldn’t be a worst-case scenario early Friday when he looked at skies at the Battery and saw clouds heading from the peninsula toward James Island — the exact opposite of what he expected. And because winds didn’t push water into the city, the storm surge from Ian was less than predicted.

“I knew we were going to have a much better day than had been predicted. But it had to play out.”

By the numbers in Charleston

  • 256: Number of damage reports from the hurricane that were submitted by citizens to the City of Charleston. Additionally, the city completed 335 rapid neighborhood-level assessments and 96 FEMA preliminary damage assessments.
  • 97: Number of traffic signals that Ian knocked out. All were restored by Monday.
  • 66: Number of roads closed during the storm. Police reopened all by Monday.
  • 41: Number of downed trees cleared by the city’s staff after the storm, as of Monday. That represents 67% of trees that were downed during the storm in public spaces, such as roads, parks and playgrounds.
  • 15: Percentage of city streets that had been swept of debris by Monday morning. City crews expect to continue clean-up efforts on a seven-day schedule until they’re finished, according to a spokesman.
  • 0: Number of deaths that occurred in South Carolina due to Hurricane Ian.

Ian hit South Carolina Friday with a vengeance

Ian made landfall near Georgetown about 2:15 p.m. Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It packed maximum sustained winds of 85 mph.

The National Weather Service’s John Farrell on Friday described the impacts of the storm across the state: “Peak wind gusts as of 12 p.m. have reached 83 mph at Fort Sumter, 73 mph at Folly Beach, 60 mph at Murrells Inlet, 58 mph at the Charleston Airport, 55 mph at Georgetown and 53 mph at North Myrtle Beach.”

Former state Rep. Vida Miller of Pawleys Island said Saturday that her beach community got hit hard by the storm.

“Beaches got slammed,” she said in an early morning text. “Pawleys is a wreck. Georgetown got a lot of water too.” She added both causeways to Pawleys were breached by water. They reopened Monday.

All along the Grand Strand, the storm dumped tons of beach sand on roadways paralleling the coast. At least five piers from Pawleys Island to North Myrtle Beach collapsed, partially or completely, according to media reports.

Two days earlier on Wednesday, Ian was a Category 4 tempest that pounded southwest Florida. It weakened into a tropical storm as it tore across the center of the state, only to be resurrected Thursday as a hurricane hitting the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. After it pierced South Carolina, it headed north quickly. By Saturday morning, it was a tropical depression centered in Virginia with rain bands stretching to Boston.

While no one in South Carolina died in the storm, more than 100 people in Florida weren’t as lucky as of Monday. In North Carolina, four deaths were reported.

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