EDISTO BEACH, S.C. — About 150 people were rescued by boats from flooding in the riverside village of Nichols on Monday while across South Carolina the oceanfront hamlet of Edisto Beach began the long work of recovering from what officials called the worst hurricane hit in almost 40 years.
In many other places, things started to return to normal after Hurricane Matthew although hundreds of thousands remained without power and those who headed inland last week were enduring traffic jams to return to the coast,
Matthew dumped 15 inches of rain in Marion County, sending the Lumber River out of its banks and inundating Nichols which is about 10 miles from the North Carolina state line. About 150 people crowded into the town hall were rescued by boat by National Guard and Department of Natural Resources officers.
“There was not a dry spot in Nichols,” said 67-year-old resident Kathy Finger. “There’s not a building there without water.”
Finger, without power since Saturday, went to bed early Sunday night knowing there had been plenty of rain but seemingly nothing more than previous storms. But she checked periodically when she noticed the water rushing more loudly beneath the house.
She tried to walk next door about 10 p.m. but couldn’t get through water up to her knees. That’s when she called 911 and crews took her by truck to a makeshift shelter at the town hall. Monday morning boats came to ferry the people out who, because they had no power, had no warning about the rising water.
In Edisto Beach, Matthew, which pushed several feet of sand onto the beachfront avenue, destroyed an oceanfront home and clawed away at the foundations of numerous others. The avenue looked like a desert with all the sand and debris. A large propane tank ended up in a parking lot while beneath an oceanfront house a septic tank was pulled up.
Mayor Jane Darby, who met with reporters at the entrance to Edisto Beach, said teams were surveying the town and there’s no early figure on how many homes were damaged or what the damage total might be.
“There’s pretty significant damage to quite a few, let me put it that way,” the mayor said. Town officials said it appeared to be the worst hurricane damage since Hurricane David back in 1979.
There’s no power in town, only limited water and residents will be allowed back beginning Tuesday to assess the damage to their homes.
While the town has only about 500 permanent residents, its population can swell to 30,000 on busy summer weekends.
One of the first priorities will be scrape the sand from the roadway and put it back on the beach to build a berm “because you never know when you’re going to get another storm,” Darby said.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., appeared with Darby and town officials.
“I’ve been throughout the district and I think by far the area that was hardest hit in this storm, at least in this district, is Edisto Beach,” Sanford said. His district includes South Carolina’s south coast from the Charleston area to Hilton Head Island.
Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday lifted the last of the coastal evacuation orders when she said people could return to Horry and Georgetown counties. Traffic was heavy returning to the coast and, according to a Department of Transportation website, travel between Columbia and Charleston was taking about 30 minutes longer than normal early Monday evening.
Utility workers cut the number of power outages statewide to about 400,000 by Monday afternoon, less than half of the peak of 850,000 outages at the height of the storm.
But officials warned the pace would slow significantly in the next few days as crews start to work on coastal areas where there was major damage to the power grid.
“We’re making progress, but there is a lot of work to do, particularly in the hard-hit areas of the Lowcountry. Hurricane Matthew was the most significant weather event impacting our system since Hurricane Hugo,” South Carolina Electric & Gas President of Retail Operations Keller Kissam said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins, Jack Jones and Meg Kinnard in Columbia contributed to this story.