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Hurricane Ian Descends on South Carolina, Swamping Beachside Towns

GEORGETOWN, S.C. — A resurgent Hurricane Ian slammed South Carolina on Friday, swamping the coast with its storm surge and pushing inland with heavy rainfall, howling winds and the threat of flash floods.

For many South Carolina residents who had been unsettled by the scenes of devastation in Florida, Ian struck with less punch than some had feared. In South Carolina, its winds reached up to 85 miles per hour, considerably less than the 150 m.p.h. power with which it had landed in Southwest Florida earlier in the week. But the storm was still potent enough to churn up a trail of damage and disruption as it swept northwest through South Carolina and into North Carolina.

Along the Grand Strand, the stretch of beach communities specking the South Carolina coast, people had to be plucked from flooded cars and buildings surrounded by water and piers had been swept into the ocean. In and around Myrtle Beach, videos shared on social media showed the storm surge overtaking the shoreline.

“I could see the waves and the water coming up,” Brenda Bethune, the mayor of Myrtle Beach, said of the view from her home across the street from the beach. “It was very intense.”

Wading through flooded streets in Charleston on Friday.Credit…Jonathan Drake/Reuters

In many coastal communities, no evacuations had been ordered by the authorities, so residents either hunkered down or left on their own.

By Friday evening, meteorologists said the storm had weakened significantly and was no longer a hurricane. Still, the threat lingered as meteorologists warned that the storm could cause inland flooding and had tropical-storm strength winds.

More on Hurricane Ian

  • The Aftermath in Florida: From the coastal cities of Naples and Fort Myers to inland communities around Orlando, the extent of Hurricane Ian’s destruction was difficult to comprehend, even for residents who had survived and rebuilt after other powerful storms.
  • Lack of Insurance: In the Florida counties hit hardest by Hurricane Ian, fewer than 20 percent of homes had flood insurance, new data show. Experts say that will make rebuilding even harder.
  • Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor, who as a congressman opposed aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy, is seeking relief from the Biden administration as Hurricane Ian ravages his own state.

“We expect drenching rain and sustained, heavy winds over most of our state,” Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said in a briefing on Friday afternoon, noting that nearly 30,000 customers were without power in his state. Well over 100,000 customers had also lost electricity in South Carolina, officials there said.

Ian made landfall around 2 p.m. in Georgetown County, between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, with a storm surge of as much as seven feet, meteorologists said.

Brandon Ellis, the director of emergency services for Georgetown County, said the area was “really taking a beating.”

In Myrtle Beach, officials said the storm surge hit six feet, pummeling homes and businesses and eroding beaches. City officials received reports of downed power lines and cars stuck in floodwaters. Winds were said to have damaged some structures on the waterfront, the authorities said.

Guests at a hotel in North Charleston watched the weather forecasts on Friday afternoon.Credit…Callaghan O’Hare for The New York Times

“It is a fast-moving storm, so that’s good,” said Travis Glatki, the city’s emergency manager. “We’re just holding strong.”

The South Carolina coast was the latest destination for Ian as it carved a swerving path through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, knocking out electricity across Cuba and then blasting across Florida before making a loop in the Atlantic back toward South Carolina.

On Friday, officials in South Carolina urged residents to hunker down. But even before the worst of the storm arrived, some expressed what almost sounded like relief.

“This is not as bad as it could have been,” Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said at a briefing on Friday afternoon, just as the storm was beginning to batter the coast. “A lot of prayers have been answered.”

Much of the concern had been directed at Charleston, the largest city in South Carolina, known for its well-preserved architecture, but also increasingly for its propensity to flood. Routine storms in Charleston often drop enough rain to make some neighborhoods difficult to navigate; lately, owners of some historic homes have been taking the costly and complicated step of having their homes hoisted several feet higher.

But as Ian approached, the predicted path shifted slightly north, sparing Charleston from the worst. After the storm passed on Friday afternoon, some roads were flooded and littered with tree limbs.

Charleston increasingly is known for its propensity to flood as well as its architectural heritage.Credit…Jonathan Drake/Reuters

“We are without power, and the storm showed us a few leaky windows that need repair before the next storm, but I can’t complain,” Robert Grubbs, who lives in downtown Charleston, said.

Before this year, 44 tropical systems, including hurricanes, had made direct landfall along South Carolina’s 187-mile coast since 1851, according to state data. Hurricane Hugo, the Category 4 storm that was among the most powerful and destructive to hit South Carolina, made landfall in 1989 a little further south than Ian. Hurricane Matthew, a 2016 storm, hit South Carolina farther north on the coast.

Later on Friday, as the winds calmed along the coast and the sky settled to a dull gray, many were beginning to assess the extent of the impact.

On Pawleys Island, the floodwaters topped seven feet, submerging cars and filling the ground floors of houses propped on stilts. One couple had to be rescued from a flooded home.

“It was worse than we expected,” said Brian Henry, the mayor of Pawleys Island. “The extent to which it began to flood, with three hours left in high tide told me that we were going to be in trouble.”

Kieran Holloway worked to clear a tree that fell on a flooded road in Charleston.Credit…Jonathan Drake/Reuters

In Georgetown, near where Ian made landfall, floodwaters submerged parts of Front Street, the city’s main shopping district. Boutiques and cafes were secured with sandbags and the floodwaters were a few feet deep at the street’s lowest point.

Patricia Devine-Harms, 61, the owner of the Purr & Pour Cat Cafe, trekked through the water in pink rain boots in the aftermath of the storm, taking pictures of the flooding to send to other merchants on the street.

“We are really fortunate,” she said. “We sit three feet up, so we just got a flooded garage and some waters percolating up in between the buildings.”

At The Beverley Beach House, a 25-room oceanfront hotel in Myrtle Beach, Corey Shaw, the general manager, said that the building’s roof had been damaged.

“I’ve seen way worse,” he said. “We’ll just mop it up in the morning, and get back to business as usual.”

Eliza Fawcett reported from Georgetown, Kellen Browning from Pawleys Island, S.C., and Rick Rojas from North Charleston, S.C. Trista Talton contributed reporting from Myrtle Beach, S.C.Livia Albeck-Ripka and Soumya Karlamangla also contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy, Kitty Bennett and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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