By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Hurricane Matthew, once a powerful Category 5 storm, arrived on our shores on Friday, Oct. 7.
The second major hurricane of the active 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, Matthew was a Category 1 by the time it hit South Carolina, but its erratic path and earlier strength was enough to prompt Gov. Nikki Haley to ask every resident within 100 miles of our coastline to evacuate.
The strongest Atlantic hurricane since Felix in 2007, Matthew delivered some hard hits to coastal communities in the Southeast in terms of property damage. On Kiawah and Seabrook there was quite the mess, but thankfully only light damage occurred to personal property.
Flooding was extreme with Cinder Creek, for example, depositing a long, broad, very thick mat of spartina on the causeway indicating the marsh had explored new frontiers. Most of Governors Drive was flooded, as well as the usual trouble spots on the Kiawah Island Parkway. There was also some damage to infrastructure.
The weir at Egret Pond will require attention. Although it seemed intact and functioning at the time, an adjacent water main also broke. Combined with flooding, the water flow hollowed out a five square yard area next to the weir. Bait fish clamored over each other in a steady stream as they competed to be first in line for the supply of fresh water rushing into the pond.
Another example of infrastructure damage was easy enough to find on Virginia Rail Rd. A culvert is completely missing along with a good chunk of the road it ducked under. Plenty of men and equipment were on the scene Sunday, but seemed at a loss on how to proceed. What remained of the culvert wasn’t visible in the five foot deep hole. The culvert will have to be replaced, hole filled, and the sub surface packed before the road can be re-paved.
On Seabrook, as of Oct. 14 the Seabrook Owner’s Property Association’s administrative buildings still didn’t have power. “We kind of have a ways to go,” said President Janet Gorski.
“We had a lot of trees down. A lot.” she said. The people who stayed here described it as somebody took the tree down and leaned it gently against the people’s house.
Because for the most part there’s very little structural damage. A few people had more than this but most of the damage is minor, siding blown off or a few shingles.
“When you think about how many trees came down we were incredibly lucky, and we had nobody that was hurt physically. I don’t want to call it a miracle but I’ll call it a blessing for sure.”
There were indeed a lot more trees downed this year than last, numbering countless dozens. On Kiawah thanks to industrious islanders the roads were passable by late Saturday. A grand and perfectly healthy Live Oak in The Preserve suffered what looked like a one punch knockout, and snapped off mid-trunk. The beach, however, endured the most dramatic damage.
On Kiawah, the first row of dunes is gone, and what used to be the second row of dunes displays a scarf ranging from one foot to six feet high the entire length of the island. The beach also suffered numerous breaches.
Boardwalks trimmed back to the dunes’ edge after last year’s flooding jut onto the beach in shards, decking ripped away with the screws still in the base.
Captain Sams Spit, known for accreting sand on the ocean side while the river side erodes, fared no better and may constitute the biggest prospective loss on the island.
More of the Beachwalker parking lot fell into the river, long with more real estate around the neck of The Spit.
The most pronounced erosion at The Spit was on the ocean side. Most of those dunes are gone, too, though some remain at the entrance to Beachwalker Park. The rest of The Spit itself is nearly flat from Beachwalker Park to the inlet at the far west end.
The Spit has been at the center of a battle over development on its fragile shores. The SC legislature passed S.139 earlier this year, embraced at the time by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management and DHEC’s Shoreline Change Advisory Committee, to draw a line in the sand beyond which development would not be permitted. The line for The Spit, one of two or three sanctuaries of its kind in the state, was delayed until 2017 by a proposal known as the “Kiawah Amendment,” pushed for by, among others, Kiawah Partners, developers of The Spit.
“We are happy to report that Kiawah Island, including Captain Sams proved to be extremely resilient in some very tough conditions and emerged from the storm relatively unscathed,” Bill Hindman, a PR consultant for Kiawah Partners, said. “Our 10-mile long beach setback line provided a substantial shock absorber, and the dunes did their job of protecting our beaches and homeowners’ properties.”
Recovery efforts are on-going. The Kiawah Island Community Association currently estimates the damage at between $2 and $3 million.