Both rising and receding flood waters in the wake of Hurricane Matthew pose hazards to residents along the South Carolina coast, state officials warned Friday.
As the majority of coastal residents have returned to their homes and many brace for more flooding as rivers near their crests, state officials sounded a pair of messages: Be wary of wild animals that have moved to higher ground to escape rising rivers and floods, and stay out of bacteria-infested floodwaters.
In the southern part of the state, many hurricane evacuees returned home this week to dirty water and power outages. More than 1,000 property owners on Hilton Head Island will likely be footing bills for water line breaks on their properties.
But by Friday, many boil-water advisories had been lifted, and electricity had been restored to all but about 38,000 utility customers.
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On Hilton Head Island, at least four plantation neighborhoods are unhappy that officials allowed residents to return early this week, expressing safety concerns about sewer problems, lack of power and water-filled and debris-strewn roads.
But, town manager Steve Riley said, “The reality was that holding off until everything was perfect just wasn’t going to happen. We needed businesses back up and operational. People were going to run out of money. There are people who were exceedingly draining their resources, and they couldn’t hold out much longer.”
The Fields family of St. Helena Island were the last folks to leave the Red Cross shelter at Battery Creek High School in Beaufort on Friday, uncertain of what conditions they would return to at their house.
Felicia Fields, whose family of nine had been cooped up at the shelter since Monday, had heard from neighbors that things at home “might not be really that good,” she said.
Just more than 300 people remained in 11 emergency shelters Friday afternoon, according to the S.C. Emergency Management Division.
The state’s U.S. Congressional delegation on Friday, meanwhile, asked the federal government to provide financial assistance to homeowners and individuals, in addition to assistance already being offered to state agencies and local governments.
Some rivers crest
In North Myrtle Beach, nearly 1,800 structures – homes, businesses, public buildings, boardwalks – suffered more than $19.7 million in damage, according to an early assessment by the city.
The North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce estimates the storm’s business impact, including damage and lost tourism revenue, at more than $10 million.
Already thinking ahead to the next storm, North Myrtle Beach officials are planning efforts to move utility lines underground and accelerate beach renourishment.
In the Pee Dee region, the highest waters are yet to come for some.
The Waccamaw River, which runs near Myrtle Beach, Conway and Georgetown, peaked in North Carolina on Wednesday but did not rise as high as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
Still, the river continues to rise where it flows through northeast South Carolina and is expected to crest on Wednesday, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
DNR warned people to be cautious of animals that have moved to higher ground in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
People who spot wildlife should not approach, attempt to feed or attempt to catch the animals, officials warn.
Also, hunting will be temporarily banned in the Waccamaw River drainage system in portions of Horry and Georgetown counties, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources announced Friday.
High river levels and widespread flooding have displaced many animals from their normal escape routes and confined them to small areas of high ground, making them vulnerable to exploitation by hunters, DNR said in a post on its website Friday.
The 10-day hunting ban goes into effect at midnight Saturday and will last through midnight Tuesday, Oct. 25.
It applies to all game except for alligators, doves, hogs and coyotes.
The Little Pee Dee River crested Thursday and is expected to be flooded through next week, according to DNR.
The Pee Dee River peaked below I-95 on Friday and was continuing to rise downstream, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The Black River crested in Georgetown County on Thursday night. Waters were expected to rise up to another foot in the Browns Ferry area east of Andrews.
More deaths blamed on storm
A fifth death was attributed to the storm in South Carolina after a 40-year-old man was found drowned in the living room of his Nichols home on Thursday.
Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson told The Associated Press that 40-year-old James Tyler refused to leave his home when rescuers warned him two rivers near the town were rising fast last weekend.
Richardson says searchers found Tyler’s body in his waterlogged living room Thursday.
In North Carolina, the large coastal city of Wilmington, near where the Cape Fear River meets the ocean, is braced for flooding in its downtown this weekend. More than 200 homes in coastal North Carolina have been affected by the flooding from the Black River and Northeast Cape Fear River.
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory announced Friday that two more deaths have been blamed on Hurricane Matthew, bringing the state’s total to 24.
Power, roads being restored
In parts of the Pee Dee, standing water has meant homes can’t be re-electrified.
“We can’t turn the power back on until the water is gone,” said Chris Byrd, an energy services representative for Pee Dee Electric. “All the houses being in here with water in them, it’s too big of a liability. I don’t want to be the one that burns somebody’s house to the ground because of an electrical fire.”
About 38,375 electric utility customers still didn’t have power as of Friday afternoon, according to the S.C. Emergency Management Division. That’s a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands who were without electricity during and immediately after the storm.
More than 100 roads and bridges closed by the storm’s impact reopened Friday, with 155 still shut down as of Friday afternoon, compared with 263 on Thursday, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation.
The (Hilton Head) Island Packet, The Beaufort Gazette, The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News, The (Florence) Morning News and the Associated Press contributed.