It will be a long time before many parts of the South Carolina coast return to what they were before Hurricane Matthew.
But communities continued to take steps toward recovery one week after the destructive storm unleashed winds and a storm surge on the S.C. coast and then dumped large amounts of rain in North Carolina that’s now inundating rivers in South Carolina’s inland counties.
S.C. National Guard troops are starting to pull back. Most coastal schools will be reopened by early next week. Florence County’s emergency operations center is taking a break for the weekend. Power has been restored to even more residents.
And some vacation and tourism spots are looking forward to reopening.
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At least nine hotels and resorts in the Hilton Head Island area had opened as of Saturday, and three more planned to open on Monday. At least a half-dozen golf courses had reopened in Beaufort County by Saturday, too, though it will take weeks for some others to be ready for play.
“Hilton Head Island is as beautiful as ever and is ready to accept guests,” said Teresa Manzolillo, the optimistic director of sales and marketing at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa. Most Marriott properties on the island plan to open by the end of next week or early the following week, the company said.
Flood fears remain
Fears of dam bursts have subdued in the Pee Dee region, even as some rivers have yet to reach their highest points.
Dams at Lake Oakdale and Forest Lake near Florence are not in danger of breaking, officials say. And the Country Club of South Carolina dam that failed earlier in the week was in a low-impact area.
The Little Pee Dee River crested earlier this week but has been slow to recede, leaving numerous homes and yards in areas such as Galivants Ferry, in Horry County, still very much waterlogged.
“I’ve been here 20 years, and I’ve never seen the water this high,” said Lamar Sawyer, who lives on the Pee Dee Highway in Galivants Ferry.
The Little Pee Dee peaked at a record-setting 17.01 feet Tuesday and by Friday had receded only a half-foot.
Homes in the Socastee area of Horry County were being evacuated Saturday as conditions worsened in a neighborhood that backs up to the Intracoastal Waterway.
The Waccamaw River is expected to crest at about 17 feet by Wednesday. Conway is preparing.
South of Conway, the Bucksport community near Garden City is still threatened by rising swamp water from the Waccamaw River and the Great Pee Dee River. Water in Bucksport was expected to rise as much as a foot-and-a-half on Saturday. Officials helped residents evacuate the area on Thursday.
“I didn’t have too much of a backyard yesterday,” Bucksport resident Claudette Brockington said Friday. “Now, I really don’t have a front yard. No yard. The water’s not in the house yet but it’s rising. It’s rising.”
Residents remain evacuated from the small town of Nichols in Marion County, where the storm and its lingering effects have caused an estimated $15.5 million in damage, officials have said.
Help for survivors, workers
As residents and business owners begin the long road to recovery, some now will have the chance to apply for funding help from the federal government.
Individual storm survivors in Orangeburg and Marion counties can apply for FEMA grants to help with recovery costs that include temporary housing and home repairs and for other serious disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses or funeral and burial costs. Other counties are awaiting approval.
Offering some immediate, short-term relief, Harvest Hope Food Bank gave food to 2,500 people at the Pee Dee Farmers Market on Friday at a distribution event for residents who lost much of their food in the flooding. Food Lion also provided 750 gift cards worth $20 each.
Utility companies have worked feverishly over the past week to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers. As of noon Saturday, about 35,000 customers remained without power.
While hundreds of utility linemen remain on duty, some residents have made sure to show their gratitude to the people restoring their power and to the first responders who have kept them safe during and after the storm.
At Palmetto Street Church of God in Florence, first responders were treated to a hearty “thank you” breakfast Friday, while church members distributed doughnuts to linemen stationed at the Florence Civic Center.
“We just wanted to do something to honor them for all of the hard work that they’ve been doing, working during the storm and all of the extra hours that they’ve been putting in to make our city safe,” pastor Brad Lewis said. “This was a difficult time for our city, and this is the least that we could do for them.”
The (Hilton Head) Island Packet, The Beaufort Gazette, The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News and The (Florence) Morning News contributed.