Evacuees from other parts of Beaufort County have access to their homes and businesses, but residents of Harbor, Hunting and Fripp Islands still did not have permission to reenter Tuesday.
The 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew for those three barrier islands in northern Beaufort County continued overnight Tuesday, and as the sun set, it remained unclear when evacuees will be able to reenter.
The hold up is damage to the roadway on either end of the Harbor Island Bridge, which connects St. Helena Island to the three barrier islands in northern Beaufort County. The bridge itself has not sustained major damage, according to S.C. Department of Transportation spokesman James Law, but washouts undermined the pavement leading to the span and make travel there perilous.
With the way cleared for residents and business owners to return to Hilton Head Island on Tuesday afternoon, Harbor, Hunting and Fripp are the last areas of the county where access is being controlled, three days after Hurricane Matthew rumbled through Oct. 8-9.
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The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office will not restrict access once the Harbor River Bridge is open, Capt. Bob Bromage said late Tuesday. Property owners associations could still restrict access to the private communities there, he added, but that’s not likely on Harbor Island, according to property owners association board member Mike Lewis. Attempts Tuesday to reach Kate Hines, general manager of the Fripp Island Property Owners Association, were unsuccessful.
Some vehicles have been allowed access — Fripp Island Public Service District and SCE&G trucks, and a property manager who arrived to inspect condominiums all crossed Tuesday morning. But most other vehicles are being turned away.
And some have grown tired of the waiting.
Fripp Island residents Mike Lawson and Scott Swoish pedaled bicycles past the checkpoint Tuesday and onto St. Helena Island. The men evacuated during the storm. They returned and waited for a while near the bridge, hoping to be let in. When it became clear that would not happen, they found a way across after seeing service vehicles and pedestrians crossing, but they declined to say how they got back.
Upon their return, Lawson discovered a tree had fallen on his screened porch. Swoish’s property also had several downed trees.
Ocean Point, the island’s northeast corner that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, took on a lot of water, the men said. And docks off the River Club were stripped down to their pilings.
Crews continue to work around the clock to restore power to customers, according to SCE&G’s online outage map. The utility hopes to completely restore power to its Beaufort County customers by 11:45 p.m. Oct. 16. However, because access to some areas is limited, “the outages on Daufuskie Island, Fripp Island and Hunting Island could potentially exceed this estimated time of restoration,” the SCE&G website said.
There’s no water service on Fripp yet, either, according to Swoish, who said that bicycles and golf carts are bustling through the streets, nonetheless.
Some residents are using boats to ferry supplies.
Fripp resident Coleman White, co-owner of Johnson Creek Tavern, climbed in a 16-foot Carolina Skiff with his son-in-law, Graham Somerall; two bicycles; and a bag of cat food.
White said he heard a rumor the bridge could be open Tuesday.
“I just want to go out and check this out,” White said before they pushed off. “Plus, I left the kitty behind.”
Harbor Island residents are also finding ways around the restrictions. Early Tuesday, Harbor Island resident Fitz Trumble tugged on his a black backpack and picked up a bag each hand, including a sack of McDonald's lunches, and began walking from near Gay Fish Company to Harbor Island.
Trumble evacuated Thursday to Aiken, along with about five other Harbor Island families. The Harbor Island property owners association had set up a command center on the island to prepare for residents’ return, he said.
“I know they’ve been there for a couple of days, and I am trying to get them some food,” Trumble said, shortly before a utility truck stopped and gave him a ride. “I know it’s hard to get in and out of there, and everybody who is going across is having to walk. So I thought I’d try go give them a little support and help them get through this.”
This is the worst storm to hit the island since the bridge to Fripp was built in 1963, according to Page Miller, author of “Fripp Island: A History.”
Miller is among most residents who evacuated and are now unable to return. She has been in cellphone and email contact with friends still on the island.
“You are not able to flush a toilet,” Miller said. However, she is told food is in ample supply and that most of the major roads have been cleared.
John Albert, a Harbor Island resident, said his days are spent waiting in a hotel room in Columbia.
“I read, check email, cruise the web looking for any information, and then I read more and that is about all I do,” Albert said. “It is hard to do. It is frustrating. The evacuation went really well. It has been coming back that is the problem, and the lack of information about when to.”
A handful of people rode out the storm on Harbor Island, and as on Fripp Island, those who stayed are doing without water, sewer and power, according to resident George Owens.
“We have worked from morning to night” fielding cellphone calls from those who evacuated and want to check on their property, Owens said. “It is worth it when you hear the relief in people’s voices, when you tell them their house is OK, their cat is alive or their grandkids pictures are still there.”
Kathy Haught of Fripp communicated via email from her iPhone Tuesday. In brief sentences she described her situation.
“Sewer completely off. Using marsh water and buckets,” Haught said. “Power went off 8:30 p.m. night of the storm, using camping burners, generators, candles and grill.”
Neighbors have given those staying on the island permission to take water from their houses, Haught said. Others have offered everything else from beer to cars, she said.
The residents have been offered rides off the island by responders but have refused, she said.
“Sorta like camping,” she said.
Jackie Pitts, an Augusta resident whose family owns a home on Fripp Island, said she has been thankful for email blasts and a remote communication center in Aiken set up by the Fripp Property Owner’s Association. That center was to close Tuesday so the team could return to Beaufort County, according to a blast sent at 8 p.m. Monday.
That message states it could be as much as a week before the island has power again and that water lines were still being inspected. However, the major roadways have been cleared, the email states. Private security, the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and the National Guard are providing security for the island.
Mike Lewis, Harbor Property Owner Association board member, said most major roadways on Harbor have also been cleared and security remains on the island.
There is still a long road ahead of the community once it returns as damage is heavy, Lewis said.
“There is a lot of damage, shingles missing, roofs pulled back and we have probably three or four houses that are in jeopardy of being lost,” Lewis said.
Yet, the island was still lucky, Lewis said.
“If you see the pictures of the devastation at Edisto Island, we could have been so much worse,” Lewis said.