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Pawleys Island: Proposal for load warnings follows porch collapse

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The collapse of a deck at the Sea View Inn on Pawleys Island that sent 13 people to the hospital last week has prompted Georgetown County’s chief building official to start work on a recommendation that would require posting load limits on the structures.

“People just don’t know,” said Robert Cox, whose department handles permits and inspections for the town of Pawleys Island. “They’re on vacation.”

Over 30 people were on the deck around 6:15 p.m. Friday. They had gathered for a photo in front of a double rainbow that had formed over the ocean, the inn’s owners, Brian and Sassy Henry said in a post on social media. The deck sat between the inn’s oceanfront porch and the beach.

The collapse caused cracked ribs, cuts and a broken ankle, the Henrys said. They could not be reached for comment this week. One guest underwent surgery this week for a leg injury. The others were treated and released at area hospitals last week.

Cox was at the scene about 15 minutes after the deck collapsed. “It looked to me like it pancaked,” he said.

It was the second deck collapse on the island in recent years. Over 20 people were injured in May 2008 when the deck on a house on the north end of Pawleys Island collapsed during a wedding reception. Over 50 people were on that deck. There have been other cases, particularly at Garden City, where decks shifted, but didn’t fall, Cox said.

He said the cause is the same in most cases: “old and overloaded.”

In both collapses at Pawleys Island, the decks were 10 to 12 feet above the ground. Cox said he is concerned what will happen if a second-floor deck falls.

“We just need to educate the owners of the beach homes and the people who are actually renting,” Cox said. “We need to come up with a way of posting something on these decks.”

Decks have to be designed to hold 60 pounds per square foot. In the case of a party or a photograph, the weight isn’t distributed evenly, Cox said.

While the injured were being loaded into ambulances, Cox inspected the adjacent porch and found it sound. It was secured along with the walkway to the beach. An engineer had drawn up plans for a new deck by Sunday and a building permit was issued by the town on Monday.

“I would think by Friday they would have a secure deck,” Cox said.

The Henrys said the previous deck wasn’t in disrepair, but was waterlogged and couldn’t hold the weight.

“This reinforces the things the town has transmitted to property owners over the years,” Mayor Bill Otis said. “They need to be continually aware of any wood decks. It’s just something that when you’re on the coast you need to be continually aware of and not take for granted.”

The new deck at Sea View Inn will be fastened with bolts, Cox said. Older decks that use nails, particularly ones that don’t have galvanized nails, are the ones he is concerned about.

“When they become old, the fasteners, the nails, begin to deteriorate,” he said. “The lumber gets old and starts to rot.”

To come up with weight and occupancy limits would require an engineer’s inspection. Cox said he’s still working on a proposal for the town and the county. “I’m looking into doing something to eliminate this happening again,” he said.

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