After Hurricane Matthew washed away the dunes in front of Derrick Hampton’s Harbor Island home, he was left with two choices – tear down the Lowcountry house or physically move it to a different lot.
“When the hurricane went over, we lost all of our dunes, which was the only thing keeping the ocean at bay,” Hampton said. “The problem is South Carolina won’t let you repair a home on an active beach, which mine was on after the dunes were wiped out.”
That was when Hampton said he was forced into considering the option of moving his home because the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control found that the extent of erosion on Hampton’s property was such that the high tide line extended past his stilted home, so no building or major repairs could be done there.
Hampton’s home is one of two Harbor Island homes that have been moved to new lots due to damage from the hurricane.
A third homeowner is obtaining permits to do the same and a handful of other beachfront homeowners are waiting for FEMA funds to also move theirs.
Harbor Island was one of the areas hit the worst by the hurricane and one of the last areas where Beaufort County emergency-management officials were restricting re-entry for residents and property owners after the October 2016 storm.
A 2-foot wall of water went through the whole island, according to Don Woelke, Harbor Island Homeowners Association manager. “Numerous homes and condos were damaged throughout the entire island, but the most severely hit were those on the beachfront,” he said.
The county tagged 14 beachfront homes on Harbor Island as “unsafe to enter,” Woelke said.
Hampton and his brother, Travis, always dreamed of owning a beach home. After visiting South Carolina’s Lowcountry annually for nearly 20 years, the pair, both dentists in Georgia, decided to build their own vacation home on Harbor Island. In addition to vacationing there themselves, they planned to use it as an investment and rent it out throughout the year to other families.
The two-story home, which was custom-built and includes four bedrooms and three and a half baths, was less than four years old when Hurricane Matthew hit the island.
The home had storm surge water coming up from the bottom and wind-driven water coming through the top. The floors were flooded and the walls became inundated with mold and mildew. The high winds shook the house, causing it to crack and break ceilings and doorways.
Despite the house’s significant damage, the bones of the house were still in good shape, Hampton said.
“We had a lot invested in (the house),” he said. “We didn’t want to tear it down, so we made the decision to pick it up and move it to a new lot.”
Luckily, Hampton had purchased another lot on the island just days before the hurricane as a precaution.
The new lot is on the north end of the island and although it is still on the oceanfront, this lot has a “football field length of dunes” intact, Hampton said. His previous lot originally had less than a third of that dune coverage, which then decreased over time due to erosion, he said.
It took several months to find a house-moving company, obtain the necessary permits and approval by the Harbor Island Homeowners Association and Beaufort County, disconnect all the utilities and build the foundation on the new lot.
Then finally, on the day of the move, the house was put on jacks, lowered onto the moving truck using hydraulics and slowly transported down the road. It took several hours to move the home about a quarter mile because mailboxes and bushes had to be removed along the road in the process.
“It was amazing,” Hampton said. “It was like the biggest float in the parade … I said we should have sat on the porch and threw beads at people.”
Although Hampton laughs about the situation now, he said the experience has been nothing but stressful.
The actual moving of the home cost Hampton about $40,000. But adding in the costs of the new concrete pylons, building a new driveway, steps and boardwalk and putting the house back together cost the brothers close to a quarter-million dollars, he said.
A group of Harbor Island beachfront homeowners, including Hampton and his brother, have created a nonprofit group in order to apply for FEMA funds, which could grant homeowners up to 75 percent of the value of their home, not including insurance funds they have received.
Those homeowners would then either move their homes to a new location or demolish them, but they are not allowed to do any work to their homes while their applications are being considered, according to Woelke.
Their applications are being reviewed by officials at the S.C. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Those applications will then be sent to FEMA by Oct. 1, but it could take anywhere from three months to three years for FEMA to make a final decision on the funding, according to Woelke.