Hurricane Irma’s deadly and destructive march through Florida and parts of the Southeast caused massive floods around South Carolina, along with tornado and wind damage, and left thousands of people without power.
The storm also claimed the lives of four people in the state, including a City of Columbia employee who was in a car accident while responding to a report of a downed tree, and an Upstate man who was killed by a falling tree limb while checking on storm damage.
Irma’s storm surge, which hit at high tide along the coast, sent flood waters surging through downtown Charleston and into communities all around Charleston County. Waves from the Charleston harbor crashed over the Battery’s seawall, extending the ocean’s territory through White Park Garden, past the area’s famous Rainbow Row, and across the peninsular.
Hospitals in downtown Charleston were surrounded by flooding, and workers told stories of having to trudge through chest-deep storm waters, contaminated by debris, to reach their cars.
Hilton Head Island and Beaufort in the Lowcountry were also hit hard by the storm. That area just spent much of the past year recovering from flood and wind damage left behind by 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, only to see more destruction brought by Irma.
For the second year in a row, the St. Francis Center on St. Helena Island in Beaufort County took a hit because of a hurricane.
While the main buildings were spared, flood waters inundated the storage sheds that hold donated furniture and household goods, said Sister Canice Adams of the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who run the outreach center.
The furniture is sold in the center’s thrift store and proceeds from sales help people in the community with home repairs.
“We have three feet of water in one shed and two feet in the other, and the furniture, worth thousands of dollars, is ruined,” Sister Canice said. “The money we get from selling it is used to purchase materials so people can fix their homes, and now that outreach is going to suffer.”
Since St. Helena Island and surrounding communities were part of the area that took the biggest hit from Irma, Sister Canice said area residents will likely need the outreach’s home repair services even more after the storm. Many people on the island live in mobile homes, which is the most vulnerable housing in a hurricane. After Hurricane Matthew, the St. Francis Center helped more than 200 families with home repairs and other needs.
Elsewhere in the Diocese of Charleston, Irma’s impact was not as severe as some had feared it would be.
Workers from Catholic Charities statewide had been on standby since Sept. 7, monitoring Irma’s path and ready to assist with food, water, housing and other needs. Thankfully, their help had not been required as of Sept. 13.
“We have not seen any large damage or unmet needs in the communities we serve,” said Kelly Kaminski, director of disaster services for Catholic Charities and regional coordinator for the agency in the Pee Dee. Kaminski said workers will spend the rest of the week canvassing areas around the state to see if anyone affected by Irma needs their help.
“Right now we are grateful the storm moved west and we will continue to be vigilant for any future hurricanes, as the season is not over yet,” Kaminski said.
So far, no parishes or schools have reported any extensive damage from the storm, according to Eric H. Meister, Catholic Mutual’s claims risk manager for the Diocese of Charleston. The Pastoral Center on Orange Grove Road and offices on Broad Street in downtown Charleston reported only minor water intrusion and no serious damage. He said the only parish to report damage so far was Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island, where about six inches of water flooded the church and the rectory.
Meister said on Wednesday that it was early in the cleanup process after Irma and it was possible that Catholic Mutual will hear from other properties with storm-related damage in the coming days.
Top photo, Miscellany/Kelly Hargett: Cars at Middleton Cove Apartments located along the Ashley River in Charleston are flooded by storm tides from Hurricane Irma on Sept. 11.