On Pawleys Island, the creek is on one side, the Atlantic Ocean is on the other, and never the two shall meet. Except when they do. Thanks to Tropical Storm Irma, 2017 marked the third year in a row the creek and ocean covered Springs Avenue and Midway Fire and Rescue was there to lend a hand.
“The water came up pretty quick,” Fire Chief Doug Eggiman said. “That’s the quickest we’ve seen that water rise in quite some time. It was fast moving.”
On Monday morning at the south end of the island, emergency services were there measuring wind speeds, watching the water and observing probable damages. Along with Eggiman was the Midway Cut Team, a two-man team who is part of the larger wildland team that responds to calls about trees blocking roadways. The pair moves in a high clearance pickup truck. “It saves us tying up fire engines for those kind of calls,” Eggiman said.
A couple of hours before high tide, the water was already passing under homes from ocean to creek side, Eggiman said. Once the water had reached knee depth, the cut team was on the way out, the last ones off that end of the island, when they were flagged down by a family staying at 762 Springs Ave.
“They were concerned,” Eggiman said. There were six people total, five adults and a 6-month-old child. Between the high winds and the rising water, it was enough to alarm anyone who isn’t used to the island. “We were able to kind of coordinate with the truck making three trips to get them to the mainland.”
Midway then put in a call to the county Emergency Operations Center, and they opened a temporary shelter at the Waccamaw Recreation Center. “Probably within 30 minutes or less, they had it open and staffed with some people from Parks and Recreation,” he said.
Eggiman, who was just ahead of the Cut Team when they were exiting the south end of the island, was glad the family was able to flag down the truck. “If it had been another 20 minutes or so, we wouldn’t have been able to get to them with the regular vehicles,” he said. “We would have ended up having to launch one of our boats and that probably would have been much more dicey because the current in the creek was very rough.” Earlier in the week Midway had put in a request for high clearance vehicles to the National Guard, but when the storm threat shifted south so did the resources. Eggiman called again on Monday after the evacuation of the family from the island to reiterate the request. Two light medium tactical vehicles were delivered before the evening high tide. Use of the vehicles was a valuable resource during Hurricane Matthew, “especially when we had that fire in Litchfield By the Sea during storm surge,” Eggiman said.
Even though the vehicles are a standard part of Midway’s hurricane plan, they weren’t needed this time. But having them was important because, “you never know.”
“You really don’t,” he said. “That’s very true in this business. You plan for it, you’ve got to plan for everything and hope that you don’t have to use anything.”