Sea Pines appears to be the hardest hit part of Hilton Head Island following Hurricane Matthew’s pounding of the island Friday evening and Saturday that brought 88 mph winds and a storm surge of roughly 12 and a half feet.
“In Sea Pines, there are a lot of trees on houses, a lot of water behind the new Plantation Club. Harbour Town appears to have taken a hard hit,” said Steve Riley, Hilton Head town manager following a helicopter ride over the island late Saturday afternoon with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Palmetto Dunes and Port Royal Plantation also appear to have sustained significant damage, said Hilton Head mayor David Bennett, who based his assessment off of talks with county officials and residents who hunkered down on the island during the category 2 storm.
But the extent of the damage is still largely unknown. Much of the island was inaccessible Saturday, including all of the gated neighborhoods, to town leaders as they worked to assess the damage.
“In every case, it was because of trees blocking the entries,” Riley explained.
But downed trees, debris and standing water were apparent islandwide.
Ten crews from a private contracting company — armed with chain saws, bucket trucks and other equipment — will get to work Sunday, cutting their way across the island. Their first priority will be to restore access to fire stations, the Hilton Head Hospital and airport, Riley said.
That’s complicated by a lack of water and sewer, which is necessary to operate even an emergency room, fire marshal Joheida Fister said.
Access to roads and neighborhoods will follow.
Additionally, crews from Palmetto Electric, Time Warner and Hargray are already working to restore services.
It’s too soon to say when island residents will be allowed to return.
“We’re just going to start going in and clearing roads and see how long it takes,” Riley said.
Meanwhile, access to the island remains blocked, Bennett said.
The island is not open to incoming traffic and any person leaving the island won’t be able to return until debris is removed.
When deputies evacuated Friday afternoon, they noticed the causeway was within two feet of being overtopped by water, raising concerns about its structural integrity.
But a visual inspection Saturday by the S.C. Department of Transportation confirmed that the bridges are usable.
“It appears to be OK,” Riley said.
Bennett said he’s thankful damage is not severe. There have been no reports of storm-related casualties or injuries .
“I’m not hearing any reports of real structural damage to buildings. Instead, it’s dock damage. Golf course damage,” he said. “It looks significant and it is. But it could have been much worse.”