Originally created 09/17/99

Heavy rains flood Myrtle Beach

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- For residents and business people rushing to reopen this entertainment haven along the coast Thursday, removing tree limbs and patching up the torn signs was easy.

But what do you do about the new lake in the front yard?

There were no easy answers after Hurricane Floyd dumped 15 to 20 inches of rain on the coastal town, creating new swimming pools and drowning vehicles, homes and businesses in the process.

Myrtle Beach had weathered the storm, but it was not out of the water yet.

Flooding was a nuisance, caused mostly by the constant torrential rains, not by an overflow from the ocean or the result of any tidal surge. And local residents hadn't seen flooding like this since Hugo in 1989.

Ron White stepped out of bed Wednesday night at the Coastal Motel on 16th Avenue, and his feet touched water. By morning, the hotel parking lot was a lake and six inches of water filled the first story efficiency rooms. Visitors were forced to walk through two feet of water to reach him.

"I've got more water out here than I got in the swimming pool," Mr. White said.

Mr. White and his brother, Charles, ignored evacuation orders and rode out the storm.

Surfside beach resident Walter Hucks fled to Hendersonville, N.C., leaving behind his Myrtle Beach fireworks shop. He heard reports that it was safe to come back Thursday, but the businessman didn't like what he saw upon his return.

Hucks Fireworks, his business along U.S. Highway 501, was under water, seeping into the bright yellow building and covering half of his wife's Toyota Avalon parked outside.

"Heck, I never expected this -- not in a million years," he said, standing along the highway. "I can't believe my car. That's aggravating."

The Toyota dealership next door ran out of luck, too. Dozens of vehicles were only half visible above the pool of water in the parking lot. Gas pumps at The Pantry convenience store on U.S. Highway 501 were unreachable by foot, and an awning fell straight on its side at the Amoco station across the street. The flooding also complicated the return of evacuees. Portions of U.S. Highways 17 and 501 were impassable at times, officials said.

A leaf blower announced the beginning of the cleanup along Chester Street. Royal Inn manager John Currie hurried to reopen the 42-room hotel in time for any returning tourists..

"We were lucky," Mr. Currie said. "I didn't sustain any real damage -- a little water in the office, but that's all."

Hurricane Dennis had already scared off tourists a few weeks ago, and Gert threatened to keep others inland. Mr. Currie needs a lull in the storm.

"It knocks the wind out of you," he said.

The flooding could continue to haunt Myrtle Beach for days to come as forecasters predict large amounts of rain dumped on North Carolina will make its way south, overflowing the banks of area waterways.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.


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