Two confirmed tornado sightings in Myrtle Beach. A Jeep stuck in the sand and surf. Roads shut down, flooded and littered with debris.
South Carolina’s coastal communities braced much of Thursday for Hurricane Dorian’s punch after the storm strengthened overnight Wednesday, pounding parts of the coast with heavy rain and wind. By Thursday morning, thousands of South Carolinians were without power and still facing a storm surge warning, or “an abnormal rise in seawater level,” announced by the National Weather Service.
By 5 p.m., the storm’s eye was about 45 miles away from Myrtle Beach and moving at a walking pace. Forecasters downgraded Dorian to a Category 2 storm Thursday with maximum sustained wind speeds of 105 mph.
Tropical storm warnings remained in effect for Bamberg, Calhoun, Clarendon, Lee, Orangeburg and Sumter counties. All flash flood watches had been canceled.
As the storm moved away from South Carolina’s southern coast, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster lifted evacuations for three of eight counties under his order: Beaufort, Colleton and Jasper counties.
Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties remained as of Thursday afternoon under the evacuation order. Horry County issued a late curfew.
State transportation Secretary Christy Hall said Thursday an estimated 441,000 people heeded McMaster’s evacuation order.
School districts in Lexington and Richland counties resumed classes Friday after closing Thursday because of bad weather.
Still wary of Dorian’s potential impacts to the state, officials said Thursday no local requests had been made for search and rescue. The state’s Public Safety director Leroy Smith also told reporters Thursday that no deaths associated with the storm had been reported.
“If you don’t need to be out, don’t go out,” McMaster told reporters Thursday. “Stay off the streets. It’s very dangerous.”
Lowcountry residents assess damage
Despite warnings from state officials, many coastal residents spent Thursday outdoors, checking on their properties.
In Charleston, strong winds blew off road signs, knocked down trees and caused more than 120,000 people to lose power by Thursday afternoon — the highest outage number compared with other coastal communities.
Residents in the Spanish Wells area of Hilton Head Island were relieved Thursday at the minimal damage from the storm.
Pine straw, leaves and branches littered roads, yards and driveways throughout the mid-island neighborhood.
A pair of basketball goals had been knocked down. Tree contractors had finished sawing apart one tree that blocked a neighborhood road. South Carolina and American flags in one yard were left hanging upside down after their poles were dislodged by the storm.
But that was the extent of the storm’s damage.
“The anxiety leading up to it was worse than the actual storm,” said Arlene Williams, who has lived in the private community for more than 20 years.
Terrance Williams, who has lived nearby off and on for 13 years, said Dorian felt no different from any other spring shower.
“Never came by,” Williams said, as five chickens and a cat roamed the driveway behind him. “It never hit.”
Williams said he evacuated ahead of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but said he didn’t put much stock into Gov. McMaster’s evacuation order this time around because later forecasts showed the storm wouldn’t directly hit the island.
Unlike in 2016, Williams said he didn’t sense the storm would be life-threatening.
“If you believe the Lord is your personal protector, you fear no evil,” Williams said.
Dorian drops two confirmed tornadoes
As the storm swept Charleston’s coast, creeping toward Georgetown and Horry counties, the forecast called for wind gusts between 75 and 95 mph and between 7 and 15 inches of rain.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Quagliariello said at least two tornadoes had been confirmed — one in North Myrtle Beach and the second nearby in Little River.
There were no reports of injuries from the tornadoes as of Thursday afternoon, according to The Sun News in Myrtle Beach.
First responders, however, have been called to respond to emergencies.
For example, firefighters were called to a Georgetown home Thursday after a generator fire broke out. In West Ashley, crews were called to a house fire started when a “resident was grilling in a house,” the Charleston Fire Department tweeted.
And in Myrtle Beach, emergency officials were watching a Jeep that had somehow gotten stuck in the sand on the beach and then, at high tide, was swept into the surf. They tied a buoy to the vehicle so they could find it later, The Sun News reported.
Images and video of the Jeep, waves crashing against it, captivated social media viewers.
‘Dodged the worst’
In Hilton Head, parts of the island dodged serious damage from the storm as of Thursday morning.
Hilton Head resident Itzel Martinez told The State Thursday she was relieved the beach and park at Coligny Circle on the island’s southern end had escaped Dorian’s sweep across the coast. She said she feared for South Carolinians north of Hilton Head Island.
“I really do think we dodged the worst,’’ said Martinez, 25, after surveying the beach at Coligny. “Charleston is where it will be the worst. Just a little bit of rain, their streets get flooded pretty quick. I’m very surprised how it is here.’’
Charleston, a peninsula city that floods often, did flood Wednesday and Thursday. Reports from the Associated Press showed a kayaker rowing through a flooded street and water levels cresting stoops and creeping up the walls of some homes.
Jeffrey Hartberger, battalion chief with the Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Department, said early Thursday reports indicated downed trees on some of the island’s smaller roads. Multiple fire alarms had gone off as a result of the storm.
He said the department was in the process of conducting damage assessments.
Asked whether he had seen any major problems, Hartberger said, “Not so far, not anything real major.”
At Sea Pines, a large gated community on Hilton Head Island that includes the iconic Harbour Town lighthouse and world renowned golf course, the impact of Dorian appeared to be minor. A few trees were down at the Sea Pines entrance and small woody pine boughs littered the road. Otherwise, the community looked to be in good shape, said James Wedgeworth, a veteran real estate agent.
Wedgeworth, whose office has received numerous calls from worried property owners who left the island, said the effects of the storm are small compared to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which downed thousands of trees and flooded sections of Sea Pines.
”I’ve seen probably a dozen to 15 trees down, which is not a lot of trees,’’ he said. “We did not have any flooding at Harbour Town.’’
Wedgeworth said other parts of the state’s coast weren’t so lucky.
“I feel sorry for my friends in Charleston,’’ he said. “I know they are getting it pretty bad. But Hilton Head Island ... has very little damage. And by tomorrow, we’ll be back to business as usual here.’’
Neighborhoods on the north side of Hilton Head Island also were spared the brunt of Dorian’s damage.
Secondary roads throughout the island were covered with a thin layer of pine needles and leaves Thursday morning. Residents who left their homes to survey the damage occasionally had to slalom around tree branches, but only a handful of roads were blocked.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputies, town employees and some residents could be seen stopping their cars to toss the largest branches aside. Still, strong gusts that continued into Thursday morning were knocking down new branches almost as quickly.
In the Squire Pope neighborhood, a trampoline had blown on top of one house, while a tree had snapped and toppled in the next-door neighbor’s yard. At least two trees were down and blocking roads in historic Mitchellville.
Residents who stayed on the island despite Gov. Henry McMaster’s evacuation order were relieved when they first stepped outside.
“A little wind, a little water,” said 45-year-old Bolivar Ramos, a carpenter who has lived on Julia Drive in the middle of the island for 12 years. “Everything is normal except leaves are everywhere.”
Bolivar is the only resident left in his neighborhood, which lost power early Thursday just as he was making coffee. The rest of his neighbors evacuated, but he surveyed the street in a golf cart and let his neighbors know their homes are fine.
Farther east along Marshland Road, Rogelio Hernandez’ family was taking stock of the damage to their home — which amounted to a small leak in the roof above Hernandez’ father’s room.
Hernandez said they passed the night by talking and watching the news in the living room, though it was hard to ignore the sound of the wind and the intermittent bang that rang out in the night.
“Now, we’re going to go see if we can go to work.”
Reporter Tom Barton contributed to this report.