Pounding rain and wicked wind gusts blasted North Myrtle Beach Saturday as Hurricane Matthew made his approach, sending one tornado across Ocean Boulevard that left a trail of damage all the way to Highway 17 Bypass.
Timmy Platt was keeping an eye on the weather radar inside his store on Sea Mountain Highway and saw the squall line moving towards shore.
He went outside to check it out, and watched as it made landfall and plowed across Ocean Boulevard.
“At first, it looked like a thunderstorm roll,” said Platt, who owns Eugene Platt’s Seafood just blocks away from the tornado’s path.
“But then I saw it turn black, and it had so much rain in it, it looked like a water spout,” Platt said. “It looked like a sideways cloud rolling in.”
City of North Myrtle Beach spokesman Patrick Dowling confirmed that a water spout began offshore and evolved into a tornado just before 8 a.m., touching down between 18th Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard.
The tornado tore the roof off of one house and dropped it onto a boat parked in the driveway below, before cutting a path all the way to the bypass.
Sagging power lines along with dozens of downed trees and limbs large enough to block roadways marked the route through a residential area all the way to the grounds of the Surf Club.
Trees blocked the club driveways, although the building did not appear damaged. On Highway 17 Bypass, the CCNB bank sign was blown down, and several street lamps tilted off their bases. Fencing was blown down on the west side of the highway by the Doc Holiday Marina, but there did not appear to be any damage to boats bobbing at the dock.
Local residents ventured out early to watch the approach of the Category 1 storm, taking pictures at beach entrances already swamped with crashing waves that unleashed bursts of sand-drenched foam.
“I think Gov. Haley predicted everything right, calling for an evacuation a couple of days before everything hit,” said Teresa Carter of Little River. “It was a good call.”
Carter and her husband drove to the shore from their Little River home to snap a few pictures. “We’re just being nosy,” she said. “But there are a lot of people who didn’t evacuate who should have.”
Randall Parker grew up in the area and brought his 9-year old son Jack Randall Parker III out for a quick peek at Mother Nature’s wrath.
“It’s not even high tide, but the wind will get really bad and I wanted to bring him out before then,” Parker said.
Observed his son: “It’s pretty bad, now.”
Parker works for the City of North Myrtle Beach and has to report to work at 5 a.m., so he is not evacuating from his home in Little River.
“I have never left for a hurricane in 42 years, but if it comes around like Hugo, I would,” Parker said. “The pressure was so low then, it looked like the walls in our house were breathing.”
Marty Smith, general managers of MOTO’s, an oceanfront bar and restaurant, watched from the back deck as the waves start to swirl around the sand dunes.
“This is the most water I’ve seen since Hugo, and I think we’ve got plenty more to come. That storm surge ain’t going to be no joke,” Smith said.
He opened in the morning to serve breakfast, but decided to close because he didn’t want to encourage anyone to travel the roads in this weather unless necessary.
Boulineau’s planned to stay open until 7 p.m., although employees vastly outnumbered customers.
“There’s nobody here, but we’re serving food until that time,” said John Gavin, food and services director.
Ocean Boulevard was mostly empty except for public safety officials and a few determined sightseers.
Golf carts, one encased in vinyl, raced around the area before Sea Mountain Highway was cut off by the marsh.
Despite waves lapping across one lane, a driver in a Toyota Camry pushed through and narrowly escaped being swept into the swollen waterway.
As the marsh water poured across the highway creating a swollen stream straight down Cecelia Street, it quickly became impassible.
A few blocks away, Pirate’s Cove was the lone oasis for stir-crazy locals and a few patrons gathered around the bar to watch weather reports on television.
“We are open until the letters fly off this sign,” beckoned their sign.
How long they intended to be open during the storm remained to be seen.
“I’m getting ready to go jerk down some letters,” one employee said.