JOHNSTON, S.C. - Monday was the 13th day without power inside the charred IGA grocery store, and the first day workers entered to excavate perishables.
The stench inside the Lee Street store was stomach-wrenching near the meat and the milk.
"If this was August it would be really smelling in here," said Sean McCutcheon, the vice president of Catastrophe Services Inc., the Columbia company hired to get the food out of the building.
Johnston's only large-scale grocery store burned the night of Jan. 29 after an electrical problem sparked a fire between the building's roof and ceiling, officials said. It caused no less than $750,000 in damage, Manager Harold Sample said.
The fire began on the eighth aisle, where the paper goods were kept.
"That didn't help any," Mr. Sample said.
Johnston residents now have to shop elsewhere for many items. The closest similar-sized grocery store is in Edgefield.
The 6-year-old store is owned by W. Lee Flowers & Co. of Lake City, S.C. Mr. Sample said there has been talk of the company using the incident as an opportunity to expand the store and add a deli and a bakery.
Mr. McCutcheon said nothing in the store was salvageable.
"There had to be tremendous heat because every plastic bottle in the place is warped," he said.
The store's 12 full-time employees are being offered the chance to work temporarily at other IGA locations, Mr. Sample said.
However, the closest store is in Gilbert, S.C., about an hour from Johnston. The other locations offered to employees are in Gaston, S.C.; Chester, S.C.; and Louisville, Ga., all between one and 2 1/2 hours away.
Mr. Sample is working more than two hours away from home, managing an IGA in Chester that opened Jan. 30 - the day after Johnston's store burned.
"It's like you lose a family member and a new one is born," he said.
Reach Carly Phillips at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.