South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and utility officials compared the damage in Aiken County from this week’s ice storm to that caused by Hurricane Hugo nearly 25 years ago.
Haley arrived by plane to Aiken Municipal Airport on Friday morning to observe debris and downed power lines after the winter storm dropped more than an inch of ice in the county through Thursday morning. Haley said the fallout from the precipitation was also worse than the ice storm of 2004, when about 200,000 state residents
“I knew this was going to be worse than 2004,” she told members of the media and local residents who had gathered in front of Aiken’s downtown administration and finance building after her tour. “I didn’t know this was going to be in the same realm as Hugo. This is really devastating. To look at these neighborhoods and to see trees on houses and to see all of the devastation that has happened to this community is terrible.”
There were as many as 350,000 power outages across the state from the storm, and 224,000 South Carolina residents were still without electricity Friday
afternoon. In Aiken County alone, 51,000 people didn’t have power, she said.
Keller Kissam, South Carolina Electric and Gas Co.’s retail operations president, said the storm was as damaging to the company’s infrastructure as Hurricane Hugo.
More than 500 out-of-state SCE&G workers have been positioned mostly in Aiken and Edgefield counties to work on restoring power, said Kissam, who gave Monday as the target date for many customers to regain electricity.
“Some could be sooner, and we certainly hope that,” he said. “But right now, there are a little less than 40,000 people out within this area, and it’s going to take some time.”
Aiken Electric Cooperative also brought in out-of-state contractors to assist in power restoration efforts, said CEO Gary Stooksbury.
The company, like SCE&G, faced difficulties with repaired lines falling back down as tree limbs and ice fell to the ground.
Two workers with SCE&G were injured by falling debris, Kissam said.
Haley’s visit to Aiken County came on the heels of an aerial tour by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who surveyed damage in Columbia and Richmond counties Thursday.
Haley was escorted in an SUV from the Aiken airport through parts of the county until reaching downtown Aiken. There, she met with local officials and utility workers before holding a news conference outside.
“The landscape of this community has been completely damaged from this storm,” she said.
Haley was scheduled for a similar trip to nearby Colleton County after leaving Aiken.
On Wednesday, the governor received federal declaration of emergency approval from President Obama. She said the visits Friday will help her determine whether further assistance is needed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Haley said several agencies, including 1,500 Department of Transportation members, 350 law enforcement officers and 230 National Guard personnel, were on the ground in the state aiding in emergency efforts. The state Highway Patrol, she said, fielded more than 4,500 calls from the storm.
Haley said she was “incredibly pleased” with how the state fared through the treacherous weather.
There have been 37 shelters set up in the state, with two in Aiken County at the Salvation Army site and North Augusta Middle School, for those without heat or power.
For some residents who attended the news conference, the event gave an avenue to vent their
Angel Brittain, of Graniteville, said she, her two young sons and her fiance have been in the dark since Tuesday morning. Brittain said she doesn’t feel the cleanup and restorations efforts have extended into her community.
“We’re suffering in Graniteville,” she told
Haley. “I have lines down
everywhere. I have power poles down. I have transformers down that blew up and
no one would come put the fire out. Stop giving us the runaround. Somebody help.”