It was another candlelit dinner for Leigh Dimas and her family – her husband, daughter and granddaughters splitting up Domino’s pizza slices as utility workers labored nearby to turn the lights back on in the Pee Dee’s central city after Hurricane Matthew.
A day of “that stuff you never do” – dusting, catching up on reading and knocking out crossword puzzles – ended with the family together in the den of Dimas’ duplex near Florence’s Cherokee Avenue.
“You do spend more quality time together,” said Dimas, a 58-year-old retired financial adviser who moved to Florence nearly eight years ago. “But these kids don’t understand why they don’t have their games and their TVs.”
Dimas and other Florence County residents are hunkering down amid what could be a long week without power.
Hurricane Matthew dumped about 10 inches of rain on the area Saturday. Its winds — up to 67 mph — also ripped trees from their soggy foundations.
In many cases, those falling trees knocked down power lines, leaving 55,000 customers across Florence County without power, including 90 percent of Duke Energy’s customers.
Nearly 26,000 Florence County customers still were without power Wednesday afternoon, according to outage data from Duke Energy and Santee Electric Cooperative.
“We got hit pretty hard throughout the county,” Florence County Emergency Management spokesman Andrew Golden said.
Residents were told the lights might be off until Sunday. But that timeline has been moved up for some as hundreds of utility workers swarm the county this week.
“A lot of Florence County residents are starting to get power back slowly,” Golden said.
Downtown Florence no longer looked like the “war zone” Wednesday that residents described in Matthew’s wake, though evidence remained.
Trees – and the occasional telephone pole – still were down in front yards and along roads, pushed aside by road workers clearing streets of debris.
Anne Keenan, a Florence bookkeeper, said it was “terrifying” Saturday to watch Matthew move trees she had thought impregnable.
“You just heard the trees going, just a big crash,” she said.
Traffic moved slowly and was bumper to bumper on some streets Wednesday because of road closures throughout the town. The streets crawled with road crews, power trucks and even the occasional wood chipper.
The damage was most visible in the city’s neighborhoods, where the lack of power has helped renew community togetherness.
“Everybody is just kind of taking care of everyone else,” said Don Watts, 48, a downtown Florence resident whose home suffered foundation damage when a nearby tree toppled.
In Watts’ neighborhood and elsewhere in the county, neighbors chopped up trees with chainsaws, loaned generators so others could charge cell phones and laptops, and helped each other pile up debris.
Neighbors with power offered hot showers to those without. Some met for the first time, walking around to view the damage.
“It’s brought people out of their homes,” Dimas said.
In 65-year-old Kathy Strickland’s neighborhood outside Timmonsville — where fallen trees still had not been cleared and power was out — well-users still had no access to water. Neighbors took turns going on supply runs into town for the whole community.
“We’ve had to make some gas runs and some food runs, find a store open and do what we need to do,” Strickland said. “It could be worse. My mother-in-law’s house (in Nichols) flooded out.”
Days after the hurricane, Florence County residents were learning the tricks of living without power.
You still can eat well if you know how to grill, for example. And you need to get up early enough to beat the lines at McDonald’s for coffee – or before it runs out of cups.
For ice, take a quick trip to the Harris Teeter off West Palmetto Street. There, employees have set up a makeshift drive-through, handing out two bags of ice and three gallons of water for free to anyone who swings by.
Ever searching for the silver lining, some residents said it is fortunate the hurricane came in early October – after the summer heat and before the cold.
Asked what they will do first when the power comes back on, most replied they would take a long, hot shower.
“We can make do with cold showers,” Florence bookkeeper Keenan said. “It makes you appreciate a cup of coffee, a hot shower and drying your hair – just the little things.”