Never in the nearly 40 years David Woods has owned his downtown Beaufort print shop had water come inside.
But as Irma’s extremities lashed the South Carolina coast and drove the tidal rivers on shore, Woods fled his Budget Print Center as 5 1/2 inches of water poured in the brick building on Carteret Street.
“You can see the water line,” Woods said as he pointed to the wall above a telephone jack inside the store Wednesday.
From the parking lot behind the store Monday, Mike Sutton launched his jon boat four blocks from the Beaufort River. He glided through the historic Point neighborhood and captured video of the water’s rise amidst some of the city’s oldest and most iconic homes.
At one point, looking out from a block of open space known as “The Green,” Sutton said he could have driven his boat from downtown straight to Lady’s Island if conditions weren’t so horrid.
“It just reminds us how close to the edge we are here,” Sutton said.
The high tide and Irma’s surge pushed water higher than anyone could remember in Beaufort. Waves broke over the wall in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park and flooded the tabby walkway where tourists stroll and rock in the swings with coffee, and filled the amphitheater where children dart around during the Beaufort Water Festival.
It climbed the steps and to the door of historic First African Baptist Church on New Street.
The water poured into Hemingway’s, a treasured dive off Bay Street opening into the park. A widely shared photo shows revelers enjoying drinks at the bar in several inches of water as Tim Lovett, owner of Beaufort outdoor retailer Higher Ground, floats on a paddleboard inside.
At Budget Print, the equipment was spared and the carpet ripped out and tossed with other debris in a large container parked along the street. Woods expects recovery to take about a week.
With Hurricane Matthew last October as a gauge, Woods felt safe skipping the sandbags and manning the shop on Monday as Irma slowed to a tropical storm and tore west. Matthew had come only up to the front door.
“We was hoping it wasn’t going to hit us,” Woods said. “We was wrong.”
Across Carteret Street, another longtime Beaufort institution is temporarily closed.
Water spared the Chocolate Tree’s sweet product and equipment. But the shop filled with 6 to 8 inches and is drying out while owners Joy King and Gene Green work to repair the air conditioning.
“It has to be kept cold,” King said. “Chocolate doesn’t like the heat.”
Sandbags kept more water from pouring in. They hope to be open by the end of the week.
Jay Kennedy also drew on experience from Matthew in deciding to remain in his waterfront home in the Point. On Hancock Street across from Tidalholm, the mansion featured in “The Big Chill” and “The Great Santini,” the water crept to the back deck of Kennedy’s home.
Kennedy jabbed a metal snow shovel under the reeds piled in his backyard and dumped load after load on the other side of the seawall Wednesday. Some of the mud along the wall has eroded, but the under the yard near the wall is concrete from when Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort was built, Kennedy said.
The house belonged to his grandmother.
The dock extending out into the river twists one way and back the other, pushed and pulled by Matthew and Irma. Kennedy attended Clemson during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and remembers harboring evacuees from Citadel and College of Charleston.
Matthew felled two live oaks, a water oak and a palm in his yard. Irma spared the remaining trees but brought the water.
“Our yard, it was only under water for maybe 45 minutes,” Kennedy said. “Once the tide turned, it washed right out.”