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Irma’s Impact

Storm-surge flooding casts a wide net

By Bill Davis | Current Staff Writer

With three major hurricanes having impacted Folly Beach over the past 24 months, it may be time for the barrier island community to get really serious about flooding.

First was Joaquin in September of 2015, then Matthew in September of last year, and most recently Irma last month. While the surfing may be great, the damage has been just as extensive.

Irma’s attack was like that of a double-edged sword, where both the oceanfront and riverside of the island got cut. Some of the houses on the riverside saw flooding like they hadn’t seen since Hurricane Hugo.

The erosion on the oceanside was bad, but not as bad as was feared. City Administrator Spencer Wetmore confirmed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had come out in the wake of the storm to assess the damage.

Wetmore said the decision was made to continue with the existing emergency plan and replace 500,000 cubic yards on the eastern side of the island. The replacement will begin at 8th Street East and run to the end of the East End.

Wetmore added the damage from Irma may hasten efforts and requests for a full renourishment, which usually occurs every 7 years.

But the bigger story with Irma may be the flooding on the other side of the island.

Folly resident and author  Stratton Lawrence, who lives on the east side, was caught off guard by Irma’s power.

“I was not really thinking that this storm would be that much,” he said. “At high tide I went down to the Washout, expecting to see it washed out, and saw some of the biggest waves.

“When I left the house at around noonish, the water was not on the road on Cooper; but 45 minutes later, my wife Hunter texted me that I’d better get home quick. That the water was rising fast,” said Lawrence.

When Lawrence got back to their home, the water in the backyard was already higher than it had been during Joaquin or Matthew. He scrambled to put out some sandbags, but by the time he got them together “the water had already risen four inches above the bottom of the door frame in the back of the house.”

“It seemed to rise about three feet in less than an hour,” said Lawrence, powerless to do anything as the water climbed into his garage and up into his first floor. And as quickly as it came, the water had receded by 4 p.m.

Like others on Folly, Lawrence stripped his first floor down to bare stud walls, and ripped out the floor altogether. Rather than putting down more flooring, he decided to just paint the cement floor and replaced the sheetrock and insulation.

Like Lawrence’s home, City Councilmember and local realtor Laurie Hull said her riverside residence flooded for the first time since Hurricane Hugo. Hull said her house never floods, that is except for Matthew and Irma.

Constituents have called her with reports of dock damage, flooding, the most she’s ever heard from the riverside. “The ocean breached Arctic and Ashley avenues, coming up under neath peoples’ houses on the oceanfront and it came over the Washout,” said Hull.

According to Hull, pumping water back into the river just doesn’t work when the surge comes from both sides of the island. She hopes something can be done to bolster the earthen berm on the backside of the island to deter the water surge for the next storm, cognizant that hurricane season is far from over.

Lawrence concurs, he said he personally saw three places the berm was lower, and was overcome by the deluge. He said he understands that might not be a priority of City Hall, that with some beach access not being safe currently.

Mayor Tim Goodwin said Irma picked the worst time to visit Folly, during high tide. “All that extra rain, there was no place for it to go,” he said. “It’s like I told one lady, next time we’ve got to pray for low tide.”

Goodwin’s house got nearly four feet of water underneath it from Irma. “Matthew told me to clear out my garage; Irma told me I didn’t do a good enough job.”

With the kind of storm surge Folly experienced with Irma, when even the causeway got flooded, Goodwin’s not sure anything can be done.

“We live on a barrier island; when the water (in the river) gets higher than the storm drains, it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “When you look at the marsh and not see the grass, you know the drains are not going to drain.”

Hull said Council might need to revisit some of its building codes in the wake of Irma.

Goodwin laments that there has been more city drainage projects in the last four years than has been seen in any period.

But still that’s not been enough.

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