Originally created 09/16/99

City puts priority on clearing Floyd debris from roads



MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Hurricane Floyd will be remembered for its intense rain and flooding, not for the monster it was made out to be.

"This has been the worst flooding we've seen, so it's going to take some time to see how it all works out," said John Smithson with the city of North Myrtle Beach.

The city's first priority: Clearing U.S. Highway 17 of debris.

"We want to get people in as quickly as possible, but we want to make it as safe as possible," said Mr. Smithson.

At 7 a.m. Horry County officials released a statement telling anyone trying to return home to "cease their efforts immediately."

"Vehicles should not attempt to drive through flooded areas," the statement said. The state's evacuation order had not been lifted in Horry or Georgetown counties.

There were reports of vehicles attempting to make it across U.S. Highway 501 and officials warned residents that they would be "turned back."

"Hurricane Floyd will be remembered for the water and the flooding," said Jill Watts, director of customer communications for Santee Cooper electric company. About 61,000 customers were without power in the three-county area, she said.

The only residents in sight Thursday morning were those working in the hotels, packing up used sandbags, taking down plywood, and assessing damage to buildings.

But because of the massive evacuation orders still intact, most residents were nowhere to be found.

The residents that stayed looked out at sunny skies and calm seas -- in stark opposition to the howling winds and torrential rains from the night before.

"The wind was just wild," said Marty Nolen, who rode out her first hurricane Wednesday night. "It was whipping around."

Bill Quaranto, the owner of El Dorado Hotel on Ocean Boulevard, stayed through the storm.

"We tracked it real carefully," Mr. Quaranto said. "Once the winds hit, and moved it along the coast line, we saw it was pushing north."

For many residents, getting back to the coast will be the trick.

Sgt. Joe Nell with the South Carolina Highway Patrol said maintenance crews were out early cleaning streets.

"Secondary roads and primary roads are clearing pretty fast," he said, advising residents to take their time coming back home. "We want everybody to be patient so we can get them in with an orderly fashion."

The worst of the storm came just after midnight, with wind gusts reaching 71 mph, according to local forecasters.

Television station WPED took telephone calls throughout the night, devoting its coverage to Floyd's brush with the coast.

Police officers were the first out of bed, surveying the damage and quickly discovering that Floyd was just a bad storm.

"Basically, there are a lot of trees down, impassable roads and a lot of flooded areas," said Cheryl Henry, the public information officer for Horry County.

Ten shelters in the county registered 5,212 guests, not even reaching their capacity of 6,300.

Residents were asked to remain in the shelters until the evacuation order is lifted.

Floyd clearly left its mark around town: The storm chopped off the end of the Cherry Grove Pier and there were downed trees and power lines along 21st Avenue North in the Cherry Grove community.

On Ocean Boulevard, in front of Pan American Resort, police had set up barricades due to flooding.

Water reached the windows of a white Ford Bronco, captured in the middle of the flood.