Originally created 09/16/99

Charleston sees damage as minor



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Morning broke over Charleston today with a pleasant blush of surprise.

Despite heavy winds and high waves during the night, Hurricane Floyd left no more damage than any big coastal storm. Downtown streets were littered with debris, fallen trees and downed power lines, and two shops in the historic district lost the facades.

The Radisson Hotel in North Charleston also lost its brick facade, which crumpled onto the parked cars of guests who had fled Floyd, but not gone far enough.

Most damage was minor but widespread. South Carolina Highway 61 between Charleston and Summerville was closed, blocked by fallen trees.

There were no serious injuries. Two children were treated at Roper Hospital after a gas-powered generator filled their home with carbon monoxide.

"It looks like a bad regular storm," Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. said. "We are blessed."

Of 152,000 people who lost electrical power during the storm, only 90,000 remained without it this morning, 62,000 of them in Charleston County. A storm crew of 12,000 was on the way to restore power in those homes, South Carolina Electric & Gas representative Kathy Love said.

The SCE&G crews were evacuated with a half-million coastal residents Tuesday in what Gov. Jim Hodges called this state's largest peacetime evacuation ever.

It also was the most botched, with thousands stranded on Interstate 26 for hours.

Their return was to be facilitated by making Interstate 26 a one-way street back home, beginning at 10 a.m., when the 13,000 who weathered the storm in area shelters start returning to their homes. The governor is taking intense criticism for not doing that for the exit, when two of every three Charleston residents heeded an evacuation order.

"I promise you it will never happen again," Mr. Riley said. "The governor has assured me that an effective plan will be in place next time."

As the curfew ended at 7 a.m. residents remaining at home drifted outdoors with rakes and brooms to clear debris from in front of their homes.

On Grove Street in Wagner Terrace, Lori Green and her brothers, Alvin and Richard, stood in awe by the uprooted live oak they had been afraid to climb as children.

"You can climb down it now, Lori," Alvin said, teasing his sister.

The tree lay blocking the street across a power line that had pulled the meter off their mother's home of 49 years.

Laura Green had evacuated to Atlanta, they said, and did not yet know about the damage at her house.

"But it doesn't matter," Richard said. "Cleaning up is easy. Losing a loved one would be the heartbreaker, and that hasn't happened this time."

Throughout Charleston, residents were relieved. Several came early to the City Marina to check their boats. Not one was flung from the water, and most seemed to have only minor damage, although the marina grounds were covered with debris.

On the Isle of Palms, water was not yet safe to drink at mid-morning. And on popular Folly Beach, where some residents are suing to prevent more new construction, police chief George Tittle said few of the new homes there were badly damaged and the pier survived the assault of 18-foot waves.

"The good man was on our side on this one," he said.

REACH

Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.