Residents are now being allowed to return home to all of Beaufort County’s barrier islands as of Thursday morning. A storm-damaged causeway connecting the mainland with Harbor, Hunting and Fripp islands was reopened Wednesday.
“There’s only one bridge on (to the island),” Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said. “There’s erosion on both sides of the causeway making it unsafe for vehicles. We’re working on it as fast as we can. But you can’t fool Mother Nature.”
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said sinkholes were repaired and downed trees removed, allowing them to lift a checkpoint that had been blocking traffic out to the islands roughly 12-15 miles east of Beaufort. State Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said a swing bridge that crosses Harbor River to access the island was not seriously damaged. SCDOT had been planning to replace the bridge next year.
Residents had been able to return to Harbor Island on Wednesday afternoon, but the Fripp Island Property Owners Association had delayed reentry onto the southernmost of the three islands so cleanup work could continues. While no one lives on Hunting Island, a state park there sustained heavy tree damage during the hurricane. State Park Service Director Phil Gaines said Hunting Island State Park had no major structural damage, but its campground will take so time to restore. While Gaines could not give a timeline, the nonprofit Friends of Hunting Island noted on its Facebook page that a reopening before January is unlikely.
Power and water has finally been restored to Fripp nearly a week after residents fled Hurricane Matthew. But Somerville said residents should still consider themselves lucky. “They need to thank God that this thing lost a lot of its intensity bouncing up and down the Florida and Georgia coast,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Because if it had hit here as a Category 4 (Matthew’s strength earlier in the week), then we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. Certainly not from Beaufort.”