By Barney Blakeney
Tuesday morning Charleston awakened to sunny skies, calm winds and the relief of having weathered Hurricane Irma relatively unscathed. The late summer beauty of the Charleston skies however belied the events of the previous day as the city experienced the wrath and wonder of nature.
Hurricane Irma threatened Charleston for three days as it wound its way through the south Atlantic after forming on the West African coast and intensifying to a category 5 hurricane devastating Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands. It made initial landfall September 10 in South Florida as a category 4 hurricane. The hurricane looped around the Florida Keys and made a second landfall on the mainland as a category 3 hurricane.
Although hurricane savvy, many Charlestonians watched Irma’s unpredictability with equal uncertainty. Should I go or should I leave was a question widely pondered by many, but acted upon by much fewer. State officials had declared a state of emergency September 9 as county and municipal officials prepared for the storm meteorologists said had a 50/50 chance of reaching South Carolina.
When Hurricane Irma began a westward turn as it drenched western Florida, Charleston prepared for the impact of a tropical storm.
Charleston County opened two shelters (one accepting pets) on Leeds Avenue in North Charleston. As ‘Tiny’ of Line Street headed to a shelter unwilling to take chances with the flooding that typically occurs in her neighborhood during heavy rains, David in Goose Creek held a cookout emptying his freezer of meats in anticipation power outages. In North Charleston, Yvonne caught unprepared by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, stocked up on bottled water, batteries and candles. “People who learned from Matthew last year are taking precautions. Another thing I’ve learned is to maintain a hurricane kit,” she said.
Some churches, particularly some on the Charleston peninsula, cancelled Sunday morning worship service. Patrick of West Ashley said his church was where he wanted to be as the storm approached. The rains had not begun Sunday morning and only was drizzling by late afternoon. Sunday night Florence finished her 4 p.m. – midnight shift at a downtown hospital unwilling to challenge the flooding that occurs in the hospital district when she was scheduled to return for her Monday shift. Hospital employees who arrived at work before Monday’s predicted noonday high tide got stuck on the job when heavy rains and the flood waters rose by late afternoon.
Tonya spent the day in bed in her Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood in North Charleston. Ranger Drive and Constitution Avenue flooded as usual during heavy rains. Rose had planned to go to a neighbor if flooding got too bad on her street in the Wagner Terrace neighborhood of the peninsula. It wasn’t necessary. Her niece atypically escaped severe flooding in the Pepperhill subdivision in North Charleston as well.
While most local residents experienced minor inconveniences (South Carolina State University students unable to leave campus were bunkered at Smith-Middleton-Hamilton Gymnasium beginning Friday) as a result of Hurricane Irma’s visit to the Lowcountry, for others it was much more. One woman nearly drowned before being rescued as she tried to drive through a Johns Island roadbed that became a river bed. Flood waters again ruined lives for people who live on routinely flooding streets like Little Avenue in the Union Heights and Evanston Estates communities of North Charleston. Fallen trees and flood waters damaged a lot of property. SCE&G officials say some 90,000 customers were without power at some point during the hurricane.
North Charleston spokesman Ryan Johnson said after the storm subsides, all residents are asked to report storm damage. For residents without an internet connection should call 8437402562, 8437402564 or 8437402569 that will have voicemails for citizens to leave their information. These lines will be checked for messages. For residents with an internet connection: http://bit.ly/nchsdamageassessment. The City will also have damage assessment teams out surveying the city for damage., he said.