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Winter storm: Limbs come down, residents pick up

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

One man’s misfortune is another man’s firewood.

Pickup trucks loaded with freshly cut wood have been easy to spot along Highway 17 and side streets as the clean-up from Winter Storm Pax moves into its second week.

Ice storms are a rarity on the South Carolina coast, but Georgetown County has been hit twice in three weeks. The first storm Jan. 29 was a glancing blow with freezing temperatures but lower than expected rain and sleet. Last week’s big storm was a bully that left thousands of county residents without electricity and broke tree limbs and smashed roofs at will.

“Ice was accumulating on the pine needles, and we just kept hearing things breaking and falling,” said Beth Thomas, education coordinator at Hobcaw Barony. “Most of it was pines. We lost power from Wednesday through Friday night at the USC Lab.”

Andy Guyton, manager at Palmetto Ace Hardware in Pawleys Island said the storm caused a rush on chain saws, generators, kerosene heaters and firewood.

“We sharpened a lot of chain saw blades,” he said, “and a lot of guys didn’t realize their saws wouldn’t start.”

Doug Eggiman, chief at Midway Fire and Rescue, said the breaking limbs sounded like gunshots in the woods. The storm, he said, generated a record number of calls for Midway last Wednesday and Thursday: 125. Average days generate seven or eight calls, he said. Firefighters were called to remove tree limbs from roads, help an elderly couple trapped in their home, and fight a structure fire among the dozens of emergencies. “We were pretty crazy Wednesday and Thursday over here,” Eggiman said.

The aftermath of Hurricane Hugo previously generated the most calls for Midway in a 24-hour period, the chief said. “That was in the high 20’s, significant no doubt about it. But it’s incredible the havoc something like an ice storm can create.”

CEO Bob Jewell said Brookgreen Gardens managed to avoid damage to sculptures or any of its significant oaks but still had to close for a day because of the storm. “Overall, we came out OK,” Jewell said. “It was a major disruption to the garden itself, and volunteers and staff spent lots of time cleaning up.”

He said Brookgreen’s historical excursions will reopen as soon as possible and walking trails should be cleared by Saturday. Debris in woods will be allowed to decay naturally. Brookgreen staffers will remove limbs from the edges of Highway 17 along the property. “Who knows when DOT will get to it,” Jewell said.

Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said there were still about 1,100 county residents without electricity on Wednesday. Most were customers of Santee Electric Cooperative in the western portion of the county. Residents without power were invited to receive free meals through a partnership formed between S.C. Baptist Convention Disaster Relief, the Salvation Army and Georgetown County at churches and recreation centers in the western part of the county. Meals were discontinued Wednesday, but a mobile shower and laundry unit were set up for public use at Ringle Heights.

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