Normalcy began to ease into hard-hit parts of the state Wednesday, just as more flooding, the loss of entire households, even a teenager’s ruined pageant gown became signposts of the fourth day after Hurricane Matthew’s thrashing.
Storm oddities began to surface in the form of a 6-foot gator displaced from fresh water onto the beach at Briarcliffe Acres in Horry County.
Three caskets floated from the waterlogged Warsaw Cemetery in Beaufort County, the county coroner said.
Thieves stole 225 firearms, including assault rifles and collector guns, from storm-damaged Five Star Gun in the Longs community north of Myrtle Beach.
Meanwhile, state and all county offices are to be open by Thursday, power outages are plummeting and some bloated rivers began to recede after setting flood records. But the devastation isn’t complete: Some rivers, including the Waccamaw in populous Horry County, have yet to crest.
Lowcountry residents working to recover kept their noses to the grindstone Wednesday. Stores on Hilton Head Island were accepting customers again. Schools in many swamped counties are set to reopen next week, causing parents a collective sigh of relief.
Power outages statewide are down to 172,500 from upward of 866,000 as the hurricane raged Saturday.
And a dozen emergency evacuation shelters remained open, mostly counties around Florence and Myrtle Beach.
But the statewide numbers mean little to people like Lavinia Jones of Brittons Neck in Marion County.
“We’re trying to get the memories, the pictures, the safe, the guns – stuff like that – because we can’t move the furniture,” said Jones, who lives near the crested but still-raging Little Pee Dee River.
Jill McMillan, 61, lives uphill from the flooded area just south of Nichols where neighbors were hopping into jonboats to survey the damage. “Marion County is devastated,” McMillan said.
Katilyn White, 17, a former Teen Miss South Carolina, probably will never again see the $2,000 yellow designer gown she wore the night she was crowned last year.
White was able to escape her home in the Fork Retch community south of the town of Nichols only with a few T-shirts, shorts and, of course, her iPhone. The senior at Pee Dee Academy had put the mermaid-style dress in its special bag on her bed, thinking the Little Pee Dee River would not rise that far.
By the time she was forced from the house, the water was chest deep. “There’s no hope it’s any good,” Kaitlyn said Wednesday of her most treasured possession. “It’s floated away somewhere.”
Breached dams pose danger
Thirteen state-regulated dams breached during the storm and another five unregulated dams failed, mostly in eastern South Carolina, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said Wednesday night.
At least five of those that failed are considered significant hazard dams, which are a threat to property and lives downstream if they burst. DHEC officials said they have assessed 394 dams since the hurricane.
Additionally, the storm damaged two other significant hazard dams that DHEC says are in danger of failure. One is in Marion County. The other is in Florence County. Agency officials said both are stabilizing.
“We actually had the National Guard out working yesterday to stabilize that situation and the erosion that is taking place,” DHEC dam safety director Jill Stewart said Wednesday during a Clemson University water resources conference.
Meanwhile, the Waccamaw River near Conway hasn’t reached its crest, which is expected by early next week.
The Black River at Kingstree continued to drop Wednesday.
Beaufort County begins to mend
Closer to Columbia, students of Lexington-Richland 5 schools who missed three days of classes will have a second storm make-up day Nov. 7, district officials announced Wednesday.
South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., which reported about 26,000 electric customers still without power Wednesday, said it is shifting resources to hard-hit areas along the coast.
Duke Energy said it has more than 10,000 workers on the ground in the Carolinas, many of whom arrived over the past 24 hours from across the United States and Canada.
On Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton and other parts of Beaufort County, thousands of people returned home and began clean-up work as several organizations served hot meals to first responders.
But some broken sewer lines jutted from the ground and tree-removal services were in big demand.
Mickey Goodman called a tree company for the giant one he wants chopped and hauled away.
The answer: “If it’s not through your roof, I’ll see you next month.”
State writers Avery Wilks, Sammy Fretwell, Jamie Self, Tim Flach and Roddie Burris contributed, along with The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News, The (Hilton Head) Island Packet, the Beaufort Gazette and the Associated Press.