Calvin Mullen eased his white Chevrolet utility van around the loop of a road that passes through wide-open Southside Park in Beaufort on Thursday.
Mullen’s was one of hundreds of cars lined up for free sandbags and a last shot at protecting property ahead of possible heavy rainfall from Hurricane Florence. When Mullen arrived at 9 a.m., cars had lined up through the park, out Southside Boulevard and down Battery Creek Road, he said.
His wait to pick up bags for himself and neighbors on Old Fort Road in Port Royal took a little more than two hours.
The city started with 5,000 bags and planned to load 12 per car while the supply lasted, public works director Lamar Taylor said. They had already handed out 2,500 bags earlier in the week when Florence first became a threat.
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City public works employees, firefighters and local politicians shoveled sand directly into bags or dropped shovelfuls in plastic tubes to fill the sacks.
The sandbag operation first started last year to aid nearby neighborhoods prone to flooding. By Thursday, word had spread throughout the county and some in the waiting cars had come as far as Bluffton and Hilton Head.
City officials weren’t checking IDs.
“I think Beaufort’s proud to serve the greater community through this effort,” Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Chief Reece Bertholf said. “ ...We’re cognizant that we are the Lowcountry, and there are citizens throughout the county in need.”
Many waiting in line said they had not experienced flooded homes during Irma last year and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 but wanted to be cautious in the face of an uncertain forecast.
Matt Watkins recently moved from Seabrook to Lady’s Island near the Beaufort County Airport and waited in his Honda Odyssey minivan for bags to protect his ground-level garage.
A hospital employee who lives in a basement apartment in downtown Beaufort pulled uncertainly into the back of the line, not sure if he would make the front by the end of his lunch break.
Gwynn Campbell drove over from nearby Twin Lakes Road, where she said the entire street flooded last year and access was blocked for days. Her home didn’t flood, but she waited for a dozen bags just in case.
Pigeon Point resident Byron Horner nodded to the gauge in his late-model Toyota 4-Runner, where the low-gas light had just blinked on as he pulled up to get his bags.
“We never expected the volume (of people),” Taylor said. “But it’s a good thing.: