COLUMBIA — For thousands of South Carolina residents, it will be a long wait to get the power back, while in Horry and Georgetown counties much was returning to normal Friday.
About 228,000 customers in the state were without service Friday afternoon, down from Thursday morning’s peak of 346,000 customers. Officials warned it could be next week before power is back on for everyone.
Power was restored to much of the Horry and Georgetown area where cleanup continued on Friday, though Santee Cooper reported 2,281 customers without electricity in Horry and Georgetown counties at 4 p.m. Horry Electric Cooperative had 6,467 still in the dark, also at 4 p.m.
The Aynor and Green Sea areas of Horry County still were recuperating and were the only areas where children did not return to school Friday.
Horry County Emergency preparedness officials returned to operating condition (OPCON) 5 Friday, signaling the end of any immediate dangers.
A state of emergency remained in effect due to fallen trees and downed power lines and debris, which continued to pose hazards to motorists particularly on secondary roads, said the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.
The state’s worst damage was in rural areas outside of Columbia and Charleston, mostly served by smaller utilities under The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.
“Some of our co-ops have never seen the damage on this scale before. For them, this has been a storm of historic proportions,” said Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training for the organization.
Gov. Nikki Haley visited Aiken and planned to go to Walterboro on Friday to look at some of the most heavily damaged areas.
The winter storm also was deadly.
Authorities said it contributed to four deaths – one man poisoned using a grill to heat his bedroom, one in a fire caused by people trying to keep their home warm in Marion and two in wrecks on slick highways.
It was the worst storm to hit South Carolina in a decade. The federal government agreed with Haley’s request to declare the state a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid.
It was the first time South Carolina had a declared disaster since 2006. No other state in the nation had been spared longer.
More than an inch of ice coated trees and power lines in Barnwell County, according to the National Weather Service. An inch-wide band of ice extended east through Bamberg and Orangeburg counties and into Colleton, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
“Ice is not easy to clean up. You usually have to wait for it to melt away,” Bamberg County Emergency Services Director Sharon Hammond said.
Areas along Interstate 95 from Florence north also were hit hard.
A man died Thursday afternoon in Berkeley County, likely from carbon monoxide poisoning, trying to heat his home with a charcoal grill, Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said.
One person died in a house fire in Marion and a second person was injured Thursday morning while trying to heat his home with the power out, Harper said.
The Highway Patrol blamed at least two traffic deaths on icy conditions.
In the Upstate, 4 to 8 inches of snow fell, icing up roads, but causing few power problems.
The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston reopened Friday morning after being closed for two days because of ice falling from the bridge cables.
The Highway Patrol said troopers have responded to more than 4,500 calls.
That includes more than 1,300 wrecks and more than 1,100 reports of trees on roadways.
Most roads are in good condition, but officials say many secondary roads still have snow, slush or ice.
Power was being slowly restored in some areas.
But smaller, rural power companies warned of historic damage to their grids.
The hardest-hit areas are spread throughout the state. Power companies said most of the customers in Aiken, Colleton, Dillon, Florence, Marion and Sumter counties were without service.
SCE&G officials said most of its outages are in rural areas, so they are moving crews out of cities to help.
They said they will restore power as quickly as possible with the company’s 1,200 workers getting help from contract crews from utilities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky. But it will likely be early next week before their work is done.
Other utilities are still trying to assess the damage and figure out how long it will take to get power restored.
The electric cooperatives also brought in out-of-state crews and were bringing workers from co-ops that weren’t heavily affected south to help where the outages were concentrated, said Carter.