Some South Carolina coastal residents were still barred from heading home Sunday while some others who did return found areas ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, with warnings to expect delays on roads with fallen trees and downed power lines that could take days to repair.
Three storm-related deaths had been reported so far – two in Florence County, where cars were swept away or submerged in flood waters, and one in Richland County, according to local officials. As workers move in to remote areas largely cut off after the storm, some say that number could rise.
State officials urged forbearance in giving the green light to return to the Charleston and parts of the Lowcountry, but keeping residents in two other counties away for another day. A decision on allowing a return to the Grand Strand isn’t likely until Monday at the earliest.
“Patience, patience, patience, that’s the only way we’re going to get through this thing,” Gov. Nikki Haley said at a briefing Sunday.
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Power outages are still a challenge in many areas, officials said.
Slightly more than 200,000 homes and businesses had been reconnected by late Sunday, leaving about 648,000 without power, officials said. In the Midlands, slightly more than 6,300 people were still without power in Richland County and just over 1,250 in Lexington County late Sunday.
All interstates statewide are open but not all major roads are. By late Sunday, 373 roads – five in Richland and Lexington counties – and 38 bridges remained closed to motorists, state transportation officials said.
Half the total was in the Lowcountry as officials continue an assessment of damage on the coast.
Back to normal
Across the Midlands, life began returning to usual Sunday even as fallen trees and power lines kept some roads closed to traffic.
Classes resume Monday at the main campus of the University of South Carolina and in most public schools in Richland and Lexington counties as power was restored to more neighborhoods. Kershaw County schools, along with Webber Elementary in Richland 1, will be closed Monday,while the rest of Richland 1 schools will operate on a two-hour delay.
Richland County and Lexington County government offices, as well as state government offices in those counties are among those reopening Monday.
Sections of 14 streets in Columbia were closed to traffic as of Sunday afternoon, officials said.
Many residents ventured out to clear tree limbs and other storm debris from their years, while crews in places like Lower Richland worked to remove larger trees and debris in the hard-hit area.
“When it fell, the house shook,” Michael Veal, 67, said Sunday of the tree sitting in the front yard of his home in the 1900 block of Lower Richland Boulevard.
Columbia received 2.29 inches of rain Saturday, although some parts of the areas got less and others slightly more, the National Weather Service said.
Meanwhile, fans were treated to good weather – expected to continue all week – to watch the USC-Georgia game, postponed a day by the storm.
“There’s not much change,” John Stackhouse of Columbia said of the gameday atmosphere, “but this one has a different feel to it.”
During the storm, state emergency officials undertook five high-water rescues in the Fripp Island area and one medical transport while answering nearly 3,000 calls for service, with more than 1,100 of them vehicle-related, Haley said during her briefing.
The impact of the hurricane will be felt later this week as well as two rivers rise with storm runoff.
The Waccamaw River is expected to be around 17 feet by the end of the week from roughly 14 feet Sunday morning, and the Little Pee Dee River at Gallivants Ferry is expected to hit an estimated 13.1 feet by the end of the week from 11 feet early Sunday, officials said.
Evacuations were lifted Sunday morning in Berkeley, Colleton, Charleston and Dorchester counties, and later in the day in Beaufort and Jasper counties. But damage assessments continue in Georgetown and Horry counties.
Edisto Beach police said evacuation in the coastal community continues due to storm damage, causing some residents who rode out the hurricane at home to leave now.
There is no electricity or water, and roads are impassable, town police said on social media.
“Due to the damage we suffered and the hazards that still exist, we are continuing the evacuation for the beach at this time. We hope to expedite your return but please bear with us for a while longer,” it said.
Some areas of the Lowcountry were hard-hit, Haley said.
Conditions in Beaufort County are improving but still have debris, flooding and drainage problems, she said. Beaufort Memorial Hospital suffered flooding and structural damage. Several communities in Hilton Head Island and some barrier islandsalso suffered damage.
Storm-flattened beaches in Myrtle Beach area were littered with debris, as strong wind gusts from the tail end of the storm lingered into Sunday morning.
In the Pee Dee, flooding, washed-out roads and a lack of power slowed some efforts to survey storm damage. More than 10 inches of rain fell in parts of Florence County. “I talked to first responders, and a lot of them are saying this was worse than (Hurricane) Hugo,” Florence County Emergency Management spokesman Andrew Golden said.
Among places hit by floodwaters was Conway High’s stadium, according to social media posts.
Among fatalities, a resident of a Richland County skilled nursing center died from what Coroner Gary Watts said is a hurricane-related drowning.
David Outlaw, 66, drowned in a rain puddle outside his residence at National Health Care in the 7600 block of Parklane Road in Northeast Richland, Watts said.
Outlaw was found face down pinned beneath a wheelchair shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday, Watts said.
In Florence County, two people died in flood waters Saturday, according to Coroner Keith von Lutcken. The body of a man was recovered from his vehicle that had been swept downstream, while a dive team recovered the body of a second man found in his submerged car at a bridge washout, according to law enforcement officials. Their identities had not been released early Sunday night.
The storm killed more than 500 people in Haiti and at least 17 in the United States, nearly half of them in North Carolina, according to reports.
Contributing: staff writers Glen Luke Flanagan, Sammy Fretwell, Jamie Self and Jeff Wilkinson; The Associated Press; The Island Packet; The Morning News.
By the numbers
648,000: Homes and businesses without power as of 4:30 p.m. Sunday
373: Roads closed to traffic as of 6 p.m. Sunday
355,000: Estimated evacuees before the storm from SC coast
6: Counties – Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, Horry, Jasper and Colleton – where those displaced could return Sunday.