South Carolina

Hurricane Irma washes away more than $6 million worth of Grand Strand sand

The dunes on the South end of Pawley's Island washed out during Irma's storm surge on Sept. 11.
The dunes on the South end of Pawley's Island washed out during Irma's storm surge on Sept. 11.

Hurricane Irma’s path was hundreds of miles west of the Grand Strand, but her wicked winds and rough surf washed away more than 600,000 cubic yards of sand from several area beaches with a damage price tag of more than $6 million.

Early estimates show the Garden City and Surfside area lost 252,000 cubic yards, costing $5.7 million, while Arcadian Shores lost 15,000 cubic yards that could cost $450,000 to replace, said Andrew Markunas, deputy Horry County engineer.

North Myrtle Beach officials estimate that Irma swept away 200,000 cubic yards. There’s no cost estimate yet, but city spokesman Pat Dowling said they spent $15,000 in overtime costs for public safety workers during the storm, and will ask FEMA to reimburse the expenses.

The Army Corps of Engineers had teams on Myrtle Beach twice this week to survey the damage, but those assessments have not yet been reported, said Mark Kruea, city spokesman.

Pawleys Island is also waiting to hear the final estimates, but has already gone to work to replace dunes on the south end that were completely swept away in the surge, said Ryan Fabbri, town manager.

“We are taking emergency protective measures to push up a dune, a protective barrier, to protect (homes) from future storms that might come until we can do our long range plan,” Fabbri said.

The island is planning a self-funded beach renourishment project next year, pending permit approval by the Army Corps of Engineers. Islanders will carry the $14 million cost, but are hoping the state will kick in about $4 million in assistance to rebuild the beaches.

The renourishment project was delayed for years because Congress declined to allocate money to help, Fabbri said.

The island has depended on emergency funding from FEMA to help pay for dune replacement after the 2015 storm and Hurricane Matthew last year, Fabbri said.

Because the sand renourishment plan has been delayed since 2004, Fabbri says that means there is less and less sand to rebuild the dunes.

“Over the last two storms those dunes have washed out, the sand has washed over the road and into the creek, so that sand is no longer in the beach system,” Fabbri said.

Workers this week started scraping up sand from the low tidal area, and pushing it up to build artificial dunes on the island.

“We push it up and it will just wash back down,” Fabbri said. “It’s not taking as well as it did the last two years, because there’s just not enough sand there.”

Hurricane Irma was so massive in size -- 400 miles -- that her outer bands started smacking the northern coast of South Carolina just as the hurricane reached the Florida panhandle, said Michael Colby, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service.

“When it was coming up through western and northern Florida into the panhandle, the bands were really ripping off the water,” Colby said.

Wind gusts in Myrtle Beach reached nearly 50 mph, Colby said.

Horry County officials plan to work with the Army Corps to find funding options for work needed in the Garden City and Surfside area where beach renourishment was already completed this year.

Surfside Beach halted their renourishment during the hurricane, but the project is back on track. Sand renourishment in North Myrtle Beach is scheduled to begin later this fall.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson