It was supposed to be a direct hit from a Category 4 storm — but call it fate, luck, answered prayers, preparation or a combination of all four — most of the Grand Strand suffered only minor damage from Hurricane Florence.
“We are very blessed and thankful,” North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said.
It was a feeling echoed by Myrtle Beach and Horry County leaders after initial damage reports. But, many warned the Grand Strand isn’t out of the woods, as flooding is expected next week because of record rainfall.
“We need folks to get ready for the next piece,” said Randy Webster, Horry County Office of Emergency Management Director.
Two area rivers — the Waccamaw River near Conway and the Little Pee Dee River in Galivants Ferry — are expected to reach or exceed record levels during the next week.
The latest forecasts still call for an additional eight to 10 inches of rain, bringing totals to 20 to 30 inches in some parts of Horry County. The flood waters could lead to more blocked roads and evacuations of county residents.
If people return to the area, Webster suggested they purchase supplies such as food and gas and be ready to evacuate. If an area flooded during Hurricane Matthew, it is likely to again, and some nearby property might also see flooding.
“Even if your area isn’t flooded [when you return], we ask you to prepare ahead,” Horry County Council chair Mark Lazarus said.
Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the evacuation order for Horry and Georgetown counties at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Residents will not need an ID to return to their homes and police direct traffic.
When people return, they could find some local roads flooded and their property without power. Thousands were without power on Saturday, though area utilities worked to restore power as the stormed passed over the Grand Strand.
Storm moves through
Hurricane Florence first impacted the area Thursday, and its effects were more prevalent on Friday. It was initially projected to make landfall as Category 4 storm, but was only a Category 1 when it reached Wilmington, North Carolina.
When the storm’s center reached Horry County it was downgraded to a tropical storm, though officials still warned of dangers with the rainfall, winds and storm surge.
The storm is expected to move out of the area Sunday, but those the impacts will still be felt for weeks.
Residents cope with hurricane
While most of the Grand Strand was spared from significant damage so far, there were two storm-related deaths in Loris.
Horry County Chief Deputy Coroner Tamara Willard identified the victims as Debra Collins Rion, 61, and Mark Carter King, 63. They were found around 7:45 p.m. Friday. The two died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator, which was used in their home.
North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said there was no significant damage in her city, though thousands remained without power.
North Myrtle police directed traffic at Boulineau’s Corner around 8 a.m. because of long lines for gas that were coming into the road. U.S. 17 only had one lane open with gas station business spilling onto the road. Frank Boulineau, the owner, said were “very busy.”
“We’re glad the storm didn’t get us,” he said.
In the Conway, there a few tree branches down and standing road on some waters. Many stores remained open during the storm, or quickly welcomed customers back. Myrtle Beach Games considers its patrons to be more than just customers and is finding ways to help keep them safe through the storm.
“Our gamers have become a family and you look out for your family during times like this,” said Juan Rodriguez, marketing coordinator for Myrtle Beach Games.
Myrtle Beach Spokesman Mark Kruea said the storm presented one of the “worst-case” scenarios as it approached, but the city was spared.
“We have no significant damage in the city of Myrtle Beach,” Kruea said.
Jerry Bowman walked towards his home down 6th Avenue North near Ocean Boulevard on Saturday morning with his blue jacket pulled over his head against the wind and rain. “I’m just trying to find a store that’s open,” he said before he walked back into the weekly motel where he lives on Chester Street.
The beach was clearly eroded at beach access points. The winds and waves in recent days had pushed more sand back up to the dunes. Flowing water from the beach accesses cut through the sand, as much as two feet in some areas, as the rain drained to the ocean.