Hurricane

Cars backup as would-be Bluffton area returnees are turned back

SC National Guard clears the way for Hurricane Matthew evacuees eventual return

Staff Sgt. Randy Gibson describes the work the 1263rd Forward Support Company has been doing to clear U.S. 278 from Bluffton to Pope Avenue in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
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Staff Sgt. Randy Gibson describes the work the 1263rd Forward Support Company has been doing to clear U.S. 278 from Bluffton to Pope Avenue in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Cars lined up for what appeared to be miles on U.S. 278 near the Beaufort and Jasper County line on Sunday morning as drivers attempted to re-enter after evacuating for Hurricane Matthew.

South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers at the scene said only those with a re-entry pass would be able to pass the barricade just past the Walmart. Those passes, they said, are mainly for emergency personnel and utility workers.

One trooper said she did not know when the roadway would be open for all drivers.

Officers from the SC Law Enforcement Division were also at the scene.

A Bluffton Police Department release this morning said no decision had been made on when residents would be allowed back in.

The department also said the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew would be in place tonight.

Capt. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said the county would have a meeting today at noon to announce new re-entry information.

That was little comfort to those on the highway Sunday morning.

"I went to get a cup of coffee from Bluffton and now they won't let me back through," Dave Angelino, a Bluffton resident, said as he stood outside his parked car.

Angelino said he has a son with special needs and that even then he was unable to pass through the barricade.

The road was also blocked Saturday evening. Troopers on Saturday received a “few calls,” but rumors of miles-long backups in the area were “blown out of proportion,” said S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Gary Miller.

The call to shut down the major thoroughfare came from local emergency management officials who decided conditions were not safe enough for travel.

“Collectively we (the Sheriff, myself, the power utilities, in consultation with SC Emergency Management Department and the Governor’s Office) made the decision that this was the best course of action. Currently there are 92,000 customers without power in Beaufort County. There is no functioning hospital. There are no functioning traffic control devices,” Lt. Colonel Neil Baxley sent in a text message to local officials.

Caitlin Turner: 843-706-8184, @Cait_E_Turner

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