Warnings Dropped, South Carolina Returns to Normal After Irene

By BRUCE SMITH | August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene spun away from South Carolina on Saturday, leaving behind only minor damage and residents breathing a sigh of relief.

The storm came closest to South Carolina early Saturday, a few hours before it made landfall at Cape Lookout, N.C. Irene snapped power lines, flooded roads for a time, spun rip currents and downed tree limbs along the coast. Emergency officials said they were doing an assessment but expected damage to be relatively light.

Even as the outer bands from the storm spun overhead, dozens of people flocked to the shore in North Myrtle Beach shortly after dawn Saturday to take stock.

“We dodged a bullet. We dodged it by 100 miles or less,” said Mary Jane Keating, a 73-year-old retiree from Little River. She said the storm pulled down a tree that broke a water line to her house, and she worried her sun room windows would be smashed in. She said she felt for those in North Carolina and farther up the East Coast contending with the storm.

The worst rains and winds from Irene were in Horry County in the northeast corner of the state. The National Weather Service reported that 3.6 inches of rain fell near Myrtle Beach while a wind gust of 62 mph was reported at the city’s Springmaid Pier.

At midday Saturday, the National Hurricane Center canceled the tropical storm warning that had been posted from Edisto Beach to the North Carolina state line. But it was still blustery along the coast with wind gusts of nearly 30 miles an hour recorded.

Earlier, waves pushed by the storm washed over Pawleys Island, covering the one road at the narrow island’s south end with sand. The road was closed for several hours Saturday while it was cleared.

Grace Brock, 49, was out at midday putting orange tape on her weathered beach house on the island after Irene washed the steps away. The house, she said, survived Hurricane Hugo 22 years ago and she wasn’t expecting the damage from Irene.

“We’ve all noticed this year that there was a lot more sand on the beach until this storm. We really haven’t had any nor’easters,” she said.

The waves were high overnight, tossing two starfish on the deck of her house about 12 feet above the beach.

State regulators said the beaches were in good shape as Irene approached. It’s been seven years since South Carolina took a direct hit from a hurricane. The State Office of Ocean and Coastal Management plans to survey of the state’s beaches early next week to see how they fared with Irene.

The State Emergency Management Division is also assessing damage from the storm.

“South Carolina, fortunately, was spared the brunt of Hurricane Irene,” said division spokesman Derrec Becker. “As we stand by to support our neighbors to the north, we will be looking at all the types of damage that occurred along our coastline. By all reports it was minor, but the counties and the state will be looking at it.”

He said the survey would take several days but there was no indication that the damage in South Carolina will qualify the state for federal disaster assistance.

In Horry County, the most visible signs of the storm were downed tree limbs and several damaged signs.

During the height of the storm, an estimated 8,000 people lost power. Most of the power had been restored by midday Saturday.

(Associated Press Writer Jack Jones contributed to this story from Columbia, S.C.)

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