COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Hurricane Matthew took South Carolina on a wild ride several weeks ago. Clean-up continues around the state and especially on the coast where Matthew's power was at the forefront for all to see.
From Savannah all the way up to Myrtle Beach, Matthew danced up the coast before making a trip up to North Carolina.
Thousands evacuated the coast ahead of the storm due to stern warnings from Gov. Nikki Haley to leave. Many took her advice while others stayed behind.
With three weeks gone since the storm made landfall in McClellanville, we're taking a look at clean-up efforts along the coast and how long it will take for the state to get back to normal.
HILTON HEAD SEEKS NORMALCY AFTER ROUGH STORM
On Coligny Beach in Hilton Head Island, visitors are back to enjoy the sand and sun, but, all around, there are reminders of a violent storm that passed through here several weeks ago.
"I heard it was pretty horrifying for people that stayed – just the trees – you could hear them snapping like toothpicks, and I'm just glad that I had my family somewhere a little bit safer,"Andrew Carmines said.
Carmines' restaurant – the popular Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks – was in Hurricane Matthew's path when it brushed Hilton Head as a category two storm.
"We tried to batten down every hatch we could – boarded up all the windows – but we did have quite a bit of debris smash into the side of the building and open up some holes, and that's probably part of the reason why we had such extensive flood damage," he said. "My estimation, we probably had about three feet of water in this dining room, three feet of water in the bar, and three feet of water in the oyster factory dining room."
Carmines' restaurant no longer has a dock. A popular outdoor deck was demolished by waves as well.
"The best way I can describe the damage that we have here is violent. There was some seriously violent force going on in this restaurant and the outer structures," Carmine said. "It's pretty amazing,"
Elsewhere on the island, boats were tossed around like toys at the Palmetto Bay Marina.
Hilton Head Island was just another familiar scene on the coast following Matthew.
A dock near the Harbour Town Lighthouse was stripped. But the Lighthouse itself is fine, as well as the nearby Liberty Oak – a 320-year-old tree.
The landmark restaurant, Hudson's, will be fine too – after some more elbow grease.
"The one thing that is the most concerning of the whole thing is that we've got near 100 employees that need to get back to work, so we're just trying to get it done quickly," Carmines said.
Carmines and his staff aren't wasting time. They hope to start feeding tourists and locals again very soon.
"We're going to be back and better than ever," he said. "One of my friends I was talking to said it's a speed bump, and I have to agree with that."
Hilton Head Island wasn't the only spot in Beaufort County that suffered damage. Daufuskie Island did too.
THE "DAUFUSKIE 100"
There's no bridge to Daufuskie. The journey begins on a ferry.
"You just have to understand that if you don't bring it, it's probably not going to be here," resident David Hutton said. "We take our drinking and relaxing very seriously over here."
Weeks ago, Gov. Nikki Haley warned the few hundred people on the island to leave, as Matthew aimed at the South Carolina coast.
"The National Guardsmen were coming to rescue us, and everyone kind of looked around at each other and said, 'Well, we kind of are planning on staying here. What do you mean rescued?' We're stocked up and ready to go, you know. We have our chainsaws and fueled up and ready to go," Hutton said.
Despite Haley's plea, about a hundred people like Hutton stayed put. They'd later be called the Daufuskie 100.
"We parked our equipment and cars out in the middle of the field where no trees would fall down and boarded up the windows and rode it out there," Hutton said. "We didn't really think about the showers enough, so it was really stuffy and we had some bad B.O. in there, but other than that."
Others like Erica Veit stayed to look after four-legged friends – the state's heritage horse, the Marsh Tacky.
"Just every second – trees snapping," she said. "It was so frightening. So frightening."
Rachel Allen stayed for that reason too. She's the equestrian director at Haig Point, a private community on the island.
"When you can't take the horses off the island, being that we're a bridgeless island, and there's not enough barge spaces to run them off, you really have to make some wise choices about their safety," Allen said.
Janet Adams, a nurse, stayed behind to look after the safety of her neighbors.
"It was night," Adams said. "It was very dark when it actually came through, and we didn't know if what we were hearing was water from the storm surge, the waves, or wind. And we waited – patiently waited – or impatiently, some of us – for the sun to come up."
And when it did, a huge mess was exposed.
Timbers dot the landscape of Daufuskie Island where piers once stood.
Remarkably, the Daufuskie 100 survived unscathed, but the island itself was badly injured. Beachside homes were battered by wind and waves.
Anderson Allen's live-aboard sailboat was tossed ashore by those waves. "Substantial hull damage and some damage to the transmission as well," he said.
But most notably, more than 2,000 trees had fallen.
"No one had to tell anyone what to do. Everyone just knew right away. We didn't really have a plan so much as we had people who knew how to function together," Hutton, who's been described as the leader of the Daufuskie 100, said.
The buzzing of chainsaws roared from one side of the island to the other, as members of the hundred like Hutton, carved trees off roadways and off houses too.
Chuck Hunter, chairman of the island council and a contractor, arrived the next day to volunteer with his own equipment and his own employees. That work is still ongoing.
"When I tried to go to my house, it was impossible to get to my house," Hunter said. "There was no roadway clear. There was barely a path that I could climb through."
Weeks later, Daufuskie's practically ready for visitors again.
"It was just people loving their neighbors as themselves – solely focused on doing the right thing and doing it the best they can," Aaron Crosby, the pastor at Daufuskie's only church, said.
Crosby said the island is fortunate.
"Wherever you go, you see the difference between disaster and being okay was about this much," he said. "There was one great picture where a tree fell right in between two propane tanks. God just sort of pushed a tree just a little bit to the side just to say, 'Here I am guys. Pay attention and give thanks.'"
Ultimately, he said Matthew brought the already close community closer together.
"I think we're much stronger now as a result of this storm than we were before it," he said.
SAND TURNS EDISTO INTO "THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA"
Further up the coast on Edisto Beach, the beach traffic looks a bit different as the town and homeowners clean up. Armored vehicles kick up clouds of sand that's sprinkled all over.
"The only thing that didn't float was the SUV, the boat, and the golf cart. Anything lighter than that floated," Bill Boyne, who recently built a home on the island, said. He owns a home in Columbia too.
Boyne is still cleaning up after a powerful storm surge swept through the bottom floor of his near-beachside home on Edisto. Some of his belongings were swept away by a foot of water.
Since then, he's been cleaning up a nasty layer of mud Matthew left behind.
But the surge dumped sand on other neighbors further up one of the main thoroughfares through town and Palmetto Boulevard.
"My wife and I have very good friends that live in the 500 block up," Boyne said. "They actually had sand. They could not open their mailbox, because when they went to open it, the sand would not allow the door to open."
It's an area of town Mayor Jane Darby has been calling the "Pyramids of Giza."
"Right now, what we're doing is we're taking the sand from the road, and we're building five to six foot dunes – berms, correctly – behind the houses to try to protect them until we can get our beach reestablished," Darby said
Darby has only been mayor for about a year-and-a-half.
"This has been, truly, a trial by fire," Darby said. "I started my tenure by being greeted by the thousand-year flood, and we were just getting our last paperwork cleared up and payments in when here came Matthew," she said.
Matthew not only covered roads with sand, it flattened houses.
"We have 75 homes that either have severe or moderate damage," Darby said.
The storm also shuttered business, tested the town's infrastructure, and closed beach accesses and the state park on the island too.
"Our first reaction was, 'My God! What has happened?' It looked like a bomb had gone off," Darby said. "You know, your heart starts beating fast, your stomach sinks, because this is your home. And I think the biggest celebration of all was, of the people that stayed here, nobody died and nobody was injured."
But the town is improving, quickly.
"We are impatient down here," Darby said. "We want things neat and tidy. We want our friends back. We want our neighbors back, so it was not an option to do anything but get it back and get it back as fast as we could," Darby said.
Meg Hoyle, a biologist who runs an eco-tour on the island, took us by boat to another spot on Edisto treasured by many.
"As Pat Conroy says, 'My wound is my geography.' It really does -- it really does leave a special mark for a lot of people," Hoyle said.
It's a spot only accessible by boat right now is Botany Bay, an undeveloped beachfront and wildlife management area.
Botany Bay remains after the storm, but was heavily damaged due to trees.
"As you can see, it's not gone," Hoyle said as she pointed toward the shoreline. "It's not destroyed. It's been impacted, but there is still beach here that's available and still going to be used by nesting sea turtles and nesting shorebirds."
And a much-photographed spot of the park seemed to hold up okay too: Boneyard Beach.
"As the trees die, the saltwater bleaches them that white, so it looks like bones rather than trees a lot of times," Hoyle said.
Ultimately, she said the barrier island did its job by protecting the mainland from Matthew's rage.
FLORENCE COUNTY RESIDENTS DIDN'T EXPECT MATTHEW'S RAGE
Hours away in Florence, from the outside a home not too far from town, it's hard to tell what happened inside just a couple weeks ago.
"Well, we were sleeping," resident Tonya Jackson said. "You know, we were up pretty late, in fact, because of anticipation of the storm – not really knowing what would happen."
Jackson said she finally shut her eyes when it seemed like the worst of Matthew was over.
"Then, at about five – a little after five that morning – I think my stepdad woke up to go to the bathroom, and water was on the floor," Jackson said. "And I mean it was coming through really fast. It was every room, you know. We just had to get up and kind of gather ourselves and kind of shake off the sleep and just kind of get into reaction mode."
Heavy rain from Matthew had flooded the Jacksons' septic system.
Tonya shot video and tried to do anything she could to usher water out of the home as toilets and bathtubs in the house overflowed for 10 hours straight.
"Water was like backing up. It was like water from the sewer and the storm drain, obviously, because I saw pine straw, leaves, little twigs – all this stuff is just floating through the house, and I'm wondering like, what is going on?" Jackson said. "You guys ever been to Niagara Falls? Because if you've been to Niagara Falls and hear the waterfalls, that's what it sounded like. No exaggeration."
Weeks later, the home's floor is buckling. And some of Jackson's belongings are still drying out.
"We weren't expecting it. I don't think anybody that I knew expected to be impacted like this," Jackson said.
Jackson isn't alone in Florence County, a county that certainly felt Matthew's rage.
"It's a mess, man. It's a mess on many levels," Jackson said. "You see what we're experiencing here. I could show you like a neighbor who's just across the street from me where they lost like shingles off their house. Their fencing fell down."
Rising rivers and flood waters made Florence another hard-hit county in South Carolina.
A few miles away at the Country Club of South Carolina, a particular home looks ordinary from the inside, but from the outside, it's now teetering on the edge of a sandy cliff.
"It's really almost indescribable. I mean, it's devastating to look at it," homeowner Diane Barnes said.
Barnes' lakeside home sits lakeside no more. During Matthew, piling waters broke a nearby dam and carved a canyon beside her home.
"I was on an 'Autumn in New England' trip, and my fiancé was sitting at the house with my animals," Barnes said. "My yard filled over across the road with water, and so we knew, or my fiancé kind of decided that something was going to happen. When it went, it went fast, and how my dock is even standing is a miracle."
But even now, with her dream home's future still uncertain, Barnes remains positive.
"I'm just so thankful that when the lake emptied and breached the dam that it didn't take my house and my fiancé and animals along with it," Barnes said. "It missed me that close. I mean, I was that close to having everything that I have and love taken away from me."
NICHOLS FLOODING: "NOBODY KNEW THIS WAS COMING"
It's harder to stay as positive in the small Marion County town of Nichols.
"First time I've ever experienced anything like this. I don't have words to say," Rose Campbell, outside her home that's still drying out, said.
To Campbell, it's almost indescribable.
"Just to see the water that was flowing from the back of my house and coming to the front of my house and it met like it was just choking everything. It was just devastation," she said.
Weeks ago, her Nichols home was partially submerged by two cresting rivers – swollen by rain from Matthew.
The Little Pee Dee River attacked her home from one side and the Lumber River attacked from the other.
"I lost my home, my clothing, my appliances, electronics, food, just material things, just lost it all," she said.
There's a chance Campbell and her family members could have lost their lives, too, if not for her husband's dump truck.
"My wife and daughter, my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law, they all got in my Dodge truck, and I got in the dump truck with my other brother-in-law, and we went out that way, and the water was up on that dump truck up to the doors, and I was parting the water, and they was following me," Rose's husband, Harry, said. "That was the only way they could have got out."
"It looked like the Red Sea had parted," Rose said. "I just closed my eyes, and I kept them closed until I could stop hearing the rushing of the water, and I peeped every now and then, but once I got across the Lumber River Bridge, the water got lower."
"I didn't think I was going to make it, but, Lord, I made it!" Harry said.
Others in the town weren't as lucky.
"I really didn't have time to prepare – I just – the only thing I have on," Samuel McDaniel, who was sitting outside a Mullins shelter, said.
First responders rescued McDaniel and about 150 others by boat.
Nichols, seen from a helicopter after Hurricane Matthew, is considered one of the worst hit towns in South Carolina.
"They did a fantastic job. They did the best job," McDaniel said. "They did an outstanding job getting everybody out."
Mayor Lawson Battle was one of the many who helped rescue struggling neighbors – loading them up in the bed of his truck.
"We have approximately 420 to 445 citizens in the town," he said. "We're all very close-knit. We all take care of each other. The town is probably 75 percent elderly population."
It was flooding no one expected. It was flooding that happened more than a day after Matthew passed.
"Nobody knew this was coming, and it came up so quick," Battle said. "I've never seen anything like it in my life. Like somebody had dropped a small town in the middle of the ocean. It was that bad."
Battle only escaped with his truck and two changes of clothes, but right now, his own home isn't something he's thinking about. He's thinking about rebuilding his town.
"I've broke down several times, but I'm not going to quit," Battle said. "I signed up for this, and I'm going to be here 'til it's fixed."
No doubt, it'll take a while.
"There were 261 homes before this devastation started and 22 existing businesses," Battle said. "Now, 234 or 235 have major damage or are completely destroyed and all 22 businesses are destroyed."
Hundreds of those structures will likely be condemned.
"We're going to have to have help from FEMA, from the state, from everywhere we can get it," Battle said.
How will the town survive? Battle said he doesn't have that answer yet.
Pastor Charles R. Johnson, whose church flooded, said faith will have to play a role.
"God is still in control," Johnson said. "Despite all of the water that came and the houses that are flooded and having to move out, God is still in control, and, out of this, much good will come."
As she cleans up her soggy home, Campbell is keeping that faith.
"When I came home, and I saw the town that I was raised in from a baby up to now – just devastation – just thinking floating down out of people's homes. Cars drowning out. Just to see what water could do to the lives of so many people in the matter of an hour, I just broke down and cried, but, thank the good Lord, he's going to sustain us." Campbell said.