Hunting Island State Park is “pretty much” underwater after Tropical Storm Irma rolled through Beaufort County on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, and will likely be closed for the remainder of the calendar year.
That’s according to Daniel Gambrell, the park’s manager, who said, in his opinion, the storm surge was higher than what he saw after last October’s Hurricane Matthew.
About a foot of water entered some of the facilities on the island during the storm, according to Gambrell.
“We’ve got really extensive flooding throughout the island,” he said.
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At the entrance of the park, water still flooded the roadways near the welcome center, making them impassable. A stop sign half submerged in water looked like a tiny red lollipop from 50 yards away.
“The flooding is pretty severe on the park right now,” he said.
At the North Beach area, water had traveled dozens of yards up the beach to the fence surrounding the lighthouse. With it came picnic tables, some of which slammed into and damaged the fence surrounding the lighthouse.
The park, which is about 5,000 acres — most of that marsh — was highly susceptible to flooding after Hurricane Matthew in October, Gambrell said. That storm took out the beaches’ dunes system and eroded its beaches ahead of Irma.
“After Matthew, we were real susceptible to any kind of high tide, or anything like that,” he said. “And with this storm, we had a pretty significant storm surge with nothing, really, to slow it down. ... That was one of the big differences: we had no protection at all because the dune system was already lost.”
There is three feet of water on some roads in the island, he said. About 75 percent of the park’s day-use areas were still flooded.
Gambrell is letting the park dry out before a complete damage assessment can be done. There was less tree damage than during Matthew, he said, but more flooding. He called that hurricane and Irma “different storms.”
Matthew caused more than $4 million in property damage and over $1 million in downed trees.
“We know we’ve got some pretty bad damage on a couple of places,” he said. “The park store had some pretty significant damage in it, and we know our roadways are going to be impacted greatly from all the flooding on the roads.”