They’re calling themselves the “Daufuskie 100” — the residents of Daufuskie Island who chose to stay behind and successfully weathered Hurricane Matthew.
Erica Marie Veit is one of them. She and some of the other island residents gathered at the Sportsman’s Lodge at Melrose Resort on the small sea island where, according to Veit, they were on 16 acres of land — cleared land, no trees — about 22 feet above sea level.
They made it. And so did their comrades on other parts of the island.
Gov. Nikki Haley, who pleaded with island’s 400 residents to evacuate the island ahead of the storm, confirmed the news at a Sunday news conference.
“We’re very pleased and relieved to say that everyone’s been accounted for, and there’s no injuries,” Veit said on Sunday morning. “Even in the cleanup efforts yesterday, everyone was safe, and no injuries were reported.”
Veit, executive director of the Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society, was worried about her Marsh Tacky horses. The breed is native to South Carolina’s barrier islands and is the state heritage horse. There are about 20 of the animals on the island, she said, split up between a few owners. The horses, too, survived unscathed.
Daufuskie itself didn’t fare as well.
The storm hit them from the north, Veit said, so the north end of the island was most damaged.
Melrose Landing and the Haig Point community dock were both destroyed, she said, adding the Haig Point ferry survived, as did Freeport Marina.
Most residents lost their boats, Veit said, and river- and ocean-oriented homes at Haig Point had four to five feet of water underneath them.
Many parts of the island still have one to two feet of standing water from the storm surge, Veit said, but the water appears to be receding.
“It’s definitely devastating here. The island will never be the same,” Veit said.
She said fuel and generators were needed so residents could continue cleanup efforts.
The U.S. Coast Guard is continuing to survey the area that includes Daufuskie, according to spokesperson Lt. James Zorn.
“I know that area got hit pretty hard down there by Hilton Head,” he said, “And a lot of those marinas down there had extensive damage.”
Zorn confirmed that the ferries themselves did not sustain significant damage, but he did not know if they had resumed operation.
The damage assessment is ongoing, he said, but the area Daufuskie is in was “hit harder than a lot of other areas in South Carolina.”
Veit said cell phone service was spotty on the island. Residents have been venturing down to Freeport to make calls.
Veit stood there Sunday morning looking at a boat that had washed up onto the concrete pier. That boat had previously been on a boat lift, she said, illustrating the storm surge the island experienced.
On Thursday, as Matthew was still making its approach, between 40 and 50 Daufuskie residents met out front of the General Store near Marshside Mama’s, Veit said.
“Dave Hutton led the meeting,” she said, “and we all took each others’ names and recorded where everyone would be (during the storm) so we knew where everyone was. We spoke about concerns and talked about good places to go and bad places to go.”
“And I think that contributed to the success of everyone weathering the storm,” she said.
While her horses contributed to her decision to stay, she also worried it would be a long time before she could get back to Daufuskie if she evacuated on the last two ferries to leave the island, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, respectively.
Veit understood Haley’s concerns but said residents’ decisions to stay came down to calculated risks.
“I think it’s (Haley’s) job to communicate with the public and err on the side of caution,” Veit said. “And in that case I think everyone was informed enough to make their own decision.
“At the time we were taking very calculated risks,” she said. “And I wouldn’t personally recommend that most people stay. ... Mandatory evacuation was warranted.”
Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston