Most Beaufort County evacuees can return to their homes now, but access in the wake of Hurricane Matthew is still being restricted on Hilton Head, Harbor and Fripp islands.
Two checkpoints — one each on major reentry arteries to northern and southern Beaufort County —have been removed. New checkpoints have been set up at the bridges to Harbor and Hilton Head islands. Residents of those areas will not be allowed to enter until it is deemed safe to do so.
HIlton Head Mayor David Bennett posted on his Facebook page Monday night that general island re-entry would begin at 3 p.m. Tuesday, but added that some neighborhoods might restrict residents depending on local conditions.
“Remember, there are certain POAs which are experiencing extenuating circumstances because of the magnitude of damage they suffered and they have safety concerns for their residents and workers,” Bennett wrote. “As always, POAs have the capability to restrict access within their gates.”
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Bennett said to expect a more comprehensive re-entry notice Tuesday morning, including a list of which neighborhoods might still be restricting access.
“I strongly urge you to consider waiting to return to the island if you are able to do so,” he said.
The American Red Cross continues to provide shelters and comfort centers at Bluffton High School (12 H.E. McCracken Circle, Bluffton) and Battery Creek High School (1 Blue Dolphin Drive, Burton).
“Citizens are asked to stop by there, mostly for information, a bottle of water, a (meal ready to eat) and to get bearings from folks who can tell them what they’re going back to,” state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said early Monday. “It’s not mandatory. If they don’t want to stop there, they can go back to their homes.”
Hilton Head Island residents who did not evacuate and need essential supplies can get food and water station at the Hilton Head School complex at 10 Wilborn Road.
Travel times on Interstates 26 and 95 — major arteries for the Lowcountry’s evacuation — have returned to normal, according to a S.C. Department of Transportation report Monday. Highway Patrol spokesperson Lance Cpl. Gary Miller added that “traffic is light and flowing normally” along the Beaufort County’s main roads. He urged drivers to use caution because many traffic lights are not yet functional.
The tie-ups near checkpoints on U.S. 278 in southern Beaufort County and U.S. 21 in northern Beaufort County on Sunday have disappeared. However, by 11:30 a.m., a line of about 40 vehicles had formed over the first bridge to Hilton Head Island. The S.C. Highway Patrol and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office were turning them around, at the entrances to the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and the C.C. Haigh Jr. Boat Landing, before they could reach the island.
Miller could not provide an estimate on how many cars had been turned away from the Hilton Head checkpoint.
Parts of the island are still not safe, according to Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Bob Bromage. “There’s been significant progress today,” he said. “Things are looking better.”
Hilton Head Hospital has reopened, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release at about 1:30 p.m.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka said at a news conference Monday that main roads are cleared in Bluffton, and power and water has been restored to many residences in her town. A 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew also will likely be lifted Monday.
Among those set to return are residents of Bloom at Belfair, an independent-living center in greater Bluffton. That building was not damaged, the company said in a news release, and residents who were evacuated to Columbia were to return after finishing their breakfast.
The news regarding Bloom’s two other facilities in southern Beaufort County was not as good. The building in Bluffton has not yet been deemed safe enough for a return, and the company still has not been able to get to its Hilton Head property, “although preliminary reports suggest that the community sustained no structural damage and power is functional,” the news release said.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, also posted to Facebook this morning regarding reentry.
Beaufort County, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island reentry hotline: 1-800-963-5023
S.C. Emergency Management Division hotline: 1-866-246-0133
S.C. Department of Transportation, traffic information: 511
Stay clear of fallen utility lines and debris. Report all outages and fallen utility lines as soon as you are able.
Palmetto Electric: 1-866-445-5551
Time Warner Cable: Residential customers: 1-800-892-4357; Business Class customers: 1-866-892-4249
SCE&G: outage —1-888-333-4465; gas leak —1-800-815-0083