091417 Hurricane Irma: County still adding up the cost
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Storm water rises outside Salt Marsh Cove, where condos are still under repair from Hurricane Matthew.

Hurricane Irma: County still adding up the cost

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

Damage around Georgetown County from Hurricane Irma was minimal, most of it was on the Waccamaw Neck, emergency manager Sam Hodge said. Staff was still assessing damage Wednesday.

“They’re out working on those today, we’ll hopefully have everything done before tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “We have more damage than I thought we were going to have. We actually had a higher storm surge than they did in some areas of Florida, on the western side.”

On Litchfield Beach walkways that were just replaced after Hurricane Matthew were damaged or destroyed. In Georgetown, Front Street flooded. There were also reports of broken trees, downed limbs, low-hanging power lines and blown transformers.

“It’s easy to ramp up for a disaster, it happens so quickly,” Hodge said. De-escalating is more difficult, Hodge said. “We account for every dime spent,” he said. “All that information, and the damage information, has to be quickly rolled into the on package and sent to Columbia then to see if we request additional funding.”

The governor declared a state of emergency last week when Hurricane Irma, then a Category 5 storm, was predicted to make landfall in the state. The storm track shifted west, but emergency managers stayed on high alert and adjusted plans as needed.

The top wind gust recorded in the county by the National Weather Service was 61 mph at the county airport. A monitoring station at DeBordieu reported a gust of 40 mph. The highest rainfall was reported in the Pawleys Island area at 4 inches for the 24 hours from 7 a.m. on Sept. 11.

The county Emergency Operations Center partially opened during Hurricane Irma, but it was mainly for logistics. Experience was a big part of how cautiously the county approached disaster escalation for the storm. “This is our third and fourth time playing this game and everyone pretty much knows their responsibility and what to do and they just come in and go to work,” Hodge said.

The National Hurricane Center called Irma’s sustained winds of 180 mph the strongest it has recorded in the Atlantic. The winds prompted the most popular storm question in Georgetown County to come up again: When will the Highway 17 bridge close?

“We don’t close the bridges in Georgetown,” Hodge said.

The county got lucky. Hodge’s biggest fear is based on that luck running out and complacency from the citizens of the county. “The more disasters we have that kind of skirt the coast and don’t create a large amount of damage, the more complacent our citizens become,” he said. “Our primary role and responsibility is to keep the citizens of Georgetown County safe.”

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