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Some Bay Street merchants made sure their businesses were as safe as possible from Hurricane Ian, a few taking the time to point out the score in recent years between Downtown Beaufort and the various hurricanes to pass through Beaufort County. Tony Kukulich/The Island News

NEAR MISS

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Hurricane Ian spares Beaufort County, strikes further north

By Tony Kukulich

Beaufort County was spared the worst that Hurricane Ian had to offer as the Category 1 storm drifted further up the coast where it made landfall near Georgetown, S.C., just after 2 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30.

The National Hurricane Center reported that Ian was packing 85 mph sustained winds when it came ashore. A peak gust of 92 mph was recorded in Charleston Bay. The National Weather Service measured the strongest gust in northern Beaufort County at 49 mph. That gust struck at 10:37 a.m. Friday at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

The central and northern portions of the South Carolina coast bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian. Widely shared video showed a Pawleys Island pier collapse and get swept out to sea, one of several piers damaged along the coast.

“We know that we have much cleaning up and rebuilding to do,” Gov. Henry McMaster said during a press conference on Saturday, Oct. 1. “Most of us have seen the pictures, particularly of the Grand Strand. We had no storm-related deaths. We had no hospitals damaged. All the water systems were, and are, OK. We had only a few problems. Most of the electricity has been restored, and I need to add, in record pace. I don’t think we’ve seen such organization and speedy service as we saw there. Insurance adjusters are here. The requirement for permits has been lifted so those from out of state can come help and speak to our people.”

Dominion Energy reported that 110,000 customers lost power during the storm’s peak with most of those outages occurring in Charleston, Summerville and throughout the Lowcountry. By Friday evening, Dominion reported 20 power outages north of the Broad River impacting 305 customers.

Hurricane Ian barreled ashore Wednesday morning in Lee County on the west coast of Florida as a massive Category 4 storm, causing widespread damage in Ft. Myers and the surrounding area. CNN has confirmed 54 storm-related fatalities in Lee County, but that number is expected to increase. By Monday afternoon, deaths across Florida edged toward 100.

Ian weakened quickly to a tropical storm as it moved across the peninsula and out into the Atlantic. Churning over the Atlantic it regained hurricane strength. Early predictions had the storm coming ashore along South Carolina’s southern coast, However the storm continued to track northeast and away from Beaufort County.

Local impact from the storm was minor. The county’s emergency operation center was activated with a partial crew at 6 p.m. Thursday night and was deactivated at 3 p.m. Friday. At the same time, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) returned to Operating Condition (OPCON) 3, its normal operating state. It had escalated to OPCON 2 Thursday afternoon, meaning that an emergency or disaster is likely to strike the county.

“Team Beaufort began preparations from the moment hurricane Ian was projected to come way,” said City of Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray. “I’m extremely proud of our folks, Beaufort County Emergency Management, and everyone involved that ensured we were ready for whatever came our way.”

The Sheriff’s Office reported 39 storm-related calls for service. Most of the calls were related to downed trees or wires. The Beaufort/Port Royal Fire Department (BPRFD) received no calls for service, while the Burton Fire District reported two calls for large branches making contact with power lines.

“We have been pretty lucky throughout this storm,” said Ross Vezin, BPRFD deputy chief of operations.

With the threat that Ian initially posed, some businesses along Bay Street in downtown Beaufort boarded up their storefronts and placed sandbags at their doors. County and local government offices closed Thursday and Friday. Hilton Head Airport and Beaufort Executive Airport suspended operations, as did the Daufuskie Island ferry.

The Beaufort County School District (BCSD) conducted eLearning Thursday and Friday, stating that it was unsafe to have buses on the road in high winds. All of the district’s buildings were cleared for entry and normal operations resumed Monday.

Tony Kukulich/The Island News

“BCSD thanks our educators and parents who made eLearning possible, avoiding having to use make-up days during winter break,” said Candace Bruder, BCSD director of communications.

The high winds that were forecast to strike the county Friday morning, but those winds never materialized. At 10:30 Friday morning, the BCSO reported sustained winds of 28 mph, far short of the expected 75 mph winds and 90 mph gusts.

The most significant damage in the county was reported on Daufuskie Island. A portion of Driftwood Cottage Lane on the island washed out due to high surf and a broken water main, which prompted crews to shut off water in that area.

The hurricane season extends through Nov. 30. There are currently two disturbances in the South Atlantic that are being tracked by the National Hurricane Center. One has less than a 30% chance of developing into a tropical depression in the next five days, while a disturbance west off the Cabo Verde Islands has a 70% chance of becoming a tropical depression. Other atmospheric conditions are expected to keep it from developing into a more serious threat.

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com.

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