SC’s lead emergency manager on Idalia’s impact: ‘We were very fortunate this time’

Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 5:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Some state and local leaders say South Carolina dodged a bullet from the impacts Hurricane Idalia could have had on the Palmetto State.

At the state’s emergency operations center in Lexington County, the nexus of South Carolina’s emergency effort coordination, response operations were winding down by Thursday afternoon as round-the-clock staffing concluded, barely 24 hours after Idalia descended upon the state.

“We were very fortunate this time,” South Carolina Emergency Management Division Director Kim Stenson said Thursday.

On Wednesday afternoon, state officials said they were anticipating as many as 200,000 power outages across South Carolina from the storm.

A day later, they reported the peak, in reality, was closer to 40,000 outages, and by Thursday afternoon, only a few thousand homes across the state were still without power.

“That’s a big indicator in terms of damages and what happens and the total number of power outages. So it wasn’t that many, and they’re getting repaired very quickly,” Stenson said, adding it can be difficult to predict how widespread outages will be when they can’t always anticipate where a storm will move.

Much of the focus Thursday turned to reopening roads and scoping out damages, the latter of which could stretch into next week.

“Our counties right now in South Carolina, especially along the coast and in the Pee Dee, are checking for damage assessment, looking for residential and business damage, and then also DOT is heavily involved right now with checking for damage on road infrastructure throughout those areas,” Stenson said.

On Thursday morning, President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for South Carolina, which allows FEMA to provide assistance to counties if needed.

If applies to all 46 counties, though the harder-hit half of South Carolina’s counties, on the state’s eastern side, are eligible to receive more assistance, and more could be added to their number, if necessary.

Those counties are currently Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Sumter, and Williamsburg.

“It’s for emergency protective measures, and the two big areas would be sheltering and also EOC, emergency operations center, operations,” Stenson said. “So that’ll help out with that, although right now, we’re not seeing a lot of expense with this storm. Again, relatively unscathed in terms of the broad look at it.”

The western 23 counties — Abbeville, Aiken, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Lexington, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Richland, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York — are only eligible to receive direct federal assistance, according to FEMA.

“And at this point, there’s been no direct federal assistance where they’ve shipped water or MREs or any of that,” Stenson added.

SCEMD advises anyone who experienced property damage from the storm should begin recovery and cleanup as soon as possible.

But before cleaning up and making repairs, they say property owners and renters should always file a claim with their insurance companies.

People who need help clearing debris can get it for free from the nonprofit Crisis Cleanup, which coordinates local volunteers to help with storm recovery, by calling 800-451-1954.

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