County endures hurricane effects
Subheadline: Irma makes impact with tropical storm
Jasper County was on edge last week and early this week as it waited for the effects of Hurricane Irma.
Tropical storm winds and about 10 inches of rain were expected to hit the county as the storm made its way last weekend from Florida, where it was a Category 4.
The county was under a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch throughout the weekend and Monday (top winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour possible, with gusts up to 55 miles per hour) and officials feared a strong storm surge of 4 to 6 feet.
Gov. Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations on Friday only for those at Knowles Island and the Tullifiny River, but the county urged residents to leave, especially in low-lying areas, particularly in the Levy area and those southeast of Hwy. 170 within Jasper County. The Roseland community was also a flooding concern.
Parts of U.S. 17 South headed to the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah were closed by noon Sunday.
By early Monday, Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm.
The storm’s effects hit the area Monday morning and immediately made an impact: A tree was down at Mitchelville and Smith’s Crossing in northern Jasper County and three trees were downed in Hardeeville. A car attempted, unsuccessfully, to go under a downed tree on S.C. 336, according to Jasper County Fire-Rescue. There were no injuries.
At one point Monday afternoon, trees were down in 14 areas, including four mile-markers on Interstate 95 north and south.
The city suspended its emergency services temporarily at 10 a.m. because of high winds and at the same time the county’s emergency services prioritized calls east of I-95, Hardeeville and the Levy areas because of the weather conditions. Services later resumed.
Palmetto Electric and SCE&G reported more 3,000 people without power as of Monday afternoon.
The shelter at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School in Ridgeland opened on Saturday (with at least 280 people taking residence as of Monday) and S.C. Law Enforcement Division, S.C. Highway Patrol and the National Guard were called in to patrol the areas of mandatory evacuation.
Last Thursday, Jasper County Fire Chief Wilbur Daley urged citizens to evacuate as the Category 5 storm was gathering steam in the Caribbean. At the time, the hurricane was expected to hit the Lowcountry as a Category 2 or Category 3 storm.
To ensure the safety of the county’s citizens, Daley recommended an evacuation.
“This is a storm not to play with,” Daley said last Thursday. “We need you to leave.”
By Friday, the storm began to shift west – slightly away from the area – and was tracking to Florida as a still-powerful Category 4 storm. Daley advised against complacency and continued to urge the county to plan to evacuate.
“That doesn’t mean that it can’t turn back toward us or toward our area,” Daley said at a Friday press conference.
As of Saturday, the state said 44,457 people were affected by the evacuation in the barrier islands, including 409 at Knowles Island and 32 at Tullifiny.
The hurricane led to mandatory evacuations in Florida which forced an unprecedented amount of traffic in Jasper County and the state. The state said there were 92,000 extra vehicles on the roads as of last week and locally U.S. 17 saw stop-and-go traffic for several days. U.S. 321, U.S. 278 and Interstate 95 were jammed .
Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward estimated last week that 100,000 cars went through Hardeeville in a few days.
“I’ve never seen traffic like this in my 33 years in law enforcement,” Woodward said.
Jasper County Council Chair Marty Sauls assured the citizens that officials were prepared for the storm.
“Jasper County, the city of Hardeeville, and the town of Ridgeland have the best resources, the best technology and best personnel to monitor the situation. You are in good hands,” he said.
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The threat of Hurricane Irma moved up our print deadline. For the latest news, visit www.jaspersuntimes.com and follow us on Facebook.