Lowcountry Endures Irma's Record-Breaking Tidal Surge, Then Begins Recovery

Sep 14, 2017

The blistering sun is back.   But Monday's swollen flood waters from Tropical Storm Irma are slowly seeping away,  leaving a once anxious Charleston community relieved, yet tender.

High tides coinciding with Irma's storm surge meant flooding for many Lowcountry residents. (Old Mt. Pleasant Village, Mon, Sep 11, 2017)
Credit Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

"When the wind got a little stronger, nothing compared to Hugo, but I started to think my son might be right.  I should have left," said 76 year-old Joseph Jones.  He lives two blocks from the intra-coastal waterway and rode out Hurricane Hugo in his small, ground level, one story home.  "But after a while, when the water started receding after Irma, I knew I made the right decision."  He says his home saw no real damage.  But mentally he feels raw.

The National Weather Service says Charleston's tide was the third highest ever recorded, at nearly 10 feet.  Authorities say strong winds toppled trees, brought down power lines,  spawned tornadoes and prompted water rescues.  

More than 100 roads were closed in downtown Charleston at one point, as swift, rising seas pummeled the peninsula's Battery walls flooding parts of White Point Garden.  Thousands were without power.

But that didn't stop locals from venturing out in the height of the storm, many in flips flops, on bicycles and in golf carts.

"It’s concerning.  We took the golf cart out to Pitt Street Bridge and we couldn’t control it," said one couple. "So we quickly turned around and it’s not even high tide yet and it"s really bad."

Wildlife stuck in the storm didn't have much of a choice.  Many birds were exposed in the thick of it. Pelicans huddled together not far from Sullivan's Island, their prominent beaks buried in the bobbing waves.  Little, brown marsh hens hung on to delicately clustered debris, floating and fluttering with the growing spray. 

But 24 to 48 hours later, the sounds of rakes, bulldozers and water pumps replaced those of the howling winds and side swiping rain.  The laughter of children, like 8 year-old Benjamin could be heard as well.  He and others lined up for a soaking along the Battery wall from the still high, but weakening waves.  

Charleston County Government still assessing damage. You can call their hotline at (843) 746-3900 through Friday September 15th.

"He's been cooped up for a couple of days," said Benjamin’s dad John Chadwick.  "We thought it would be good to get out for a while.  We live on James Island and were under tornado warnings.  We just need to relax."

Also at the Battery, Rebecca Areheart had to make periodic stops to scrape off her shoes.  "I've been walking across the muck.  It's a lot of pluff mud that's come up from the bottom."  It's a slippery gray mud with a distinctive marsh smell, much like opening a raw oyster fresh from the water.

Pluff mud along Charleston's Battery - Tuesday
Credit Victoria Hansen

Rebecca came down to give Cousin Gayle Areheart a tour.  "It's like a ghost town," she said.  "I've never seen it like this before.  It's kind of eerie."

300 Charleston city crews were on the street as of Tuesday.  Charleston County Emergency Management says it is still assessing the damage.  It's citizen's information line will be open until Friday, September 15.  That number is (843) 746-3900.