Lynn Russell pulled up to her Dolphin Road home on Fripp Island Thursday afternoon, not knowing what to expect.
Fallen tree branches and palm fronds littered the driveway, so she had to park across the street. Phone in hand, she made her way toward the sky-blue house, ready to take photos of the damage wrought by Hurricane Matthew. She had been bracing herself since she drove onto the island: “Should I be nervous? Should I be crying?” she asked herself.
There were downed trees, all right. But as if by some miracle, each fell away from the house. Her yard was going to need lots of work, but her home was safe.
For the first time Thursday, Fripp Island residents and property owners who evacuated for Hurricane Matthew were allowed to head home, after four days of anxiety following the storm.
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The private resort community at the end of Sea Island Parkway in northern Beaufort County had been the last area where access was restricted. Beaufort County emergency management officials on Wednesday removed a checkpoint near the Harbor Island Bridge, about 6 miles away from the Fripp Island gate. That allowed evacuees to return to Harbor Island, but the Fripp Island Property Owners Association decided its community was still too unsafe for reentry.
Power was restored to Fripp overnight Wednesday, and the water is back on, too, General Manager Kate Hines said shortly before issuing the all-clear at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday. By that point, contractors called in to repair infrastructure were already on the island. Contractors hired to work on private homes will be allowed on the island after 8:30 a.m. Friday.
All residents should boil their water before drinking, cooking or washing dishes, according to Hines and home owners association president Chris Assaf. The advisory also applies to making ice, brushing teeth and providing to pets. Is is safe to bathe and wash clothes.
The association resisted letting owners back on the island immediately after the county removed its checkpoint in part because not all of Fripp’s roadways had been cleared. Porpoise Drive sustained a good deal of damage, but those with homes there should be able to get into their homes, Hines said. Returning residents might have to take a detour or the road may temporarily go down to one lane until the road can be repaired, she said.
Although storm surge and heavy rain caused some damage, “We are just incredibly lucky,” Hines said. “So many trees landed on each other and missed the homes.”
Russell, a nurse, evacuated on Friday to stay with family in Athens, Ga., she said. It took her a few days to secure anything outside that might fly away. The most difficult part, she said, was deciding which things she would take with her, and which things would be left at Matthew’s mercy.
Last week, Russell had a whole canopy above her front and back yards. Now, only a few palms and scraggly branches remain overhead.
“This is going to be thousands of dollars,” she said, pointing to the trees down throughout her property. The most recent pair of tropical storms brough down a couple of trees and several branches, she said, and the cost for this latest mess would surely be greater.
Like many homes on Fripp, Russell’s is built upon concrete pilings. The 18 inches or so of water that flooded her property left a line on the wall under her house. The force of the water was so strong, it moved a mat with a tiny trampoline and a metal weight bench about 15 feet across the floor in the underbelly of the home.
“I left my house, not knowing what I would come back to,” Russell said, her voice faltering, “and that was kind of scary.”