Tropical Storm Irma dampens flood-weary riverside businesses in Historic Georgetown

GEORGETOWN, S.C. — The Spanish moss has already dried on the weathered live oak trees that were just 24 hours ago battling the gales and downpours of Tropical Storm Irma.

By Tuesday afternoon the storm surge from the Sampit River that flooded Historic Georgetown’s Front Street Monday had dissipated, leaving behind a scattering of branches in the road and sandbags leaning haphazardly against quaint storefronts.

Irma brought flooding to South Carolina’s third-oldest city for the third time in as many years. In October 2015, the so-called “1,000-year flood” drenched the state in what The Weather Channel then deemed “one of the most prolific rainfall events in the modern history of the United States.” Category 1 Hurricane Matthew made landfall almost exactly a year later.

 Sandbags on the sidewalk in Georgetown, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Lindsey Leake)

Sandbags on the sidewalk in Georgetown, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Lindsey Leake)

“I think three years in a row of doin’ this, I think everybody’s pretty much, ‘Oh my God, not again,’” mused Elisa Fox, co-owner of The Ship’s Booty, where whimsical “gifts from the sea” saturate nearly every inch of retail space. “You know, there’s no time to freak out. It’s just like, alright, let’s put the stuff up and — whatever, it’s not a (Category) 4, we’re not gonna move.”

Fox says Irma, once a Category 5 hurricane that ravaged the Caribbean, Florida and Georgia on its way to the Palmetto State, hardly kept customers away.

“We only closed Monday. We had a lot of people in here Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” she said, noting the business she owns with her husband stayed dry. “You know what, people come to water. So, it was a good weekend.”

Also back in business Tuesday was Waterfront Books, a cozy shop home to buckling shelves overstuffed with new releases, first editions and dog-eared paperbacks.

Wizened, matter-of-fact co-owner Ann Carlson wasn’t worried about Irma.

“I’ve been here about 20 years. I’ve been through quite a few of these,” she said. “So, knowing that we were on the outer edges, I wasn’t all that concerned.”

 The docks in historic Georgetown, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Lindsey Leake)

The docks in historic Georgetown, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Lindsey Leake)

Carlson spent a couple of hours moving merchandise from bottom shelves to higher ground, but didn’t stress about possible damage to her store.

“You get a little jaded after a while, with, you know, worrying about hurricanes,” she said.

Along the Harborwalk, which runs parallel to Front Street, the water remained high but calm, gently lapping against such docked vessels as the Fantastic of nearby Murrells Inlet and the Stardust of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Shaun Pitcher, of Charleston, was tending to his sailboat on the public dock.

“No damage, wasn’t that bad,” he surveyed. “We had some flooding, came up over the docks. We went and had lunch at, uh, Big Tuna today and you could see the water line was about a foot and a half inside the bar.”

Cuttin’ Edge Barber Shop, which suffered water damage the last two autumns, also flooded from Irma — a familiar occurrence that doesn’t faze master barber Jamie Adams. A chalkboard sign outside her store proclaims, “We Survived a 3rd Flood!”

 The Cuttin’ Edge Barber Shop storefront in Georgetown, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Lindsey Leake)

The Cuttin’ Edge Barber Shop storefront in Georgetown, S.C., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (Lindsey Leake)

“These walls and everything have had to be ripped out twice,” she drawled. “Luckily we dodged a bullet this year because everything that was installed last year is pretty much waterproof.”

Though Adams hopes she won’t have to replace her particle-board cabinets a third time, she refuses to let Mother Nature get in the way of her business.

“We’re tired of it,” she admitted. “I’m not goin’ anywhere. I’ve been here 14 years.”

As he mopped the barber shop floor, Adams’ husband James echoed the attitude of many Georgetown business owners and patrons growing accustomed to high water: “We’ve got this down pat now.”

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This article was written for Lindsey Leake’s COMM 622 Writing and Editing for Convergent Media course on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.

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