Here we go again; Irma added to previous storm damage

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Photo by Tommy Troxell

Some retailers have the luxury of deciding when to close up shop, whether it's permanently or seasonally. No external pressure need apply.

Take Avis Rollison, owner of The Porcupine women's designer boutique for 42 years at The Village at Wexford. After much consideration, she decided to retire, so she is celebrating the occasion with a huge weeks-long "retirement sale" to thank her loyal customers and friends. Rollison said the store will remain open through at least mid-November.

Consider her a lucky one in the business world. Other merchants aren't so lucky, especially after nature's nasty tag team of Matthew and Irma banged the Lowcountry twice in the past 11 months. You might call them equal opportunity destroyers. Both caused flooding, structural damage, inventory loss, and power outages.

The Bluffton Bicycle Shop, a home-grown favorite, and 843 restaurant on Hilton Head are two of the latest casualties that shut their doors because their businesses just couldn't recover from effects of the two hurricanes.

Hurricane Irma brushed the island on Sept. 11 with winds and storm-water surges. Matthew devastated it in October 2016. South Beach in Sea Pines, Hilton Head Plantation, Wexford and Point Comfort suffered the most by Irma. Overall, the latest Hilton Head town assessment reported structural damage to 203 structures at a cost of $1.3 million, according to Hilton Head building official Chris Yates. Matthew clearly won the slugfest, damaging 3,700 homes and businesses last year, with a $70 million clean-up cost.

Yates said the damage assessment of Irma took the town four days to complete; Matthew took three weeks.

"With Matthew we didn't have the flooding; it was wind damage, trees, limbs and broken windows," Yates said. "This time we had more flooding. Seventy-five to 80 percent was on the south end of Hilton Head, concentrated around the Broad Creek area. On the west side of the island, it came up into the marshes off Broad Creek and Calibogue Sound up to and including south beach, where the water flowed straight through."

Andrew Carmines, owner of the iconic Hudson's Seafood on the Docks, knows all about flooding. In the past 10 years, he said the restaurant has endured unwelcome water about six times.

Irma was bad, but Matthew was worse. Hudson's sustained about $1 million in damages a year ago, he said. The tab on Irma is still mounting. The flooring was a mess, so he tore it up a few weeks ago, and replaced it with a 3-inch-thick slab of concrete. The restaurant was closed for 12 days, but Carmines kept all 100 employees on the payroll.

"The Wednesday prior to the storm, I looked at the Weather Channel, which I should never do; I was really depressed," he said. "I woke up the next morning, and I said, 'You know what, my family's healthy, we're happy, we're able-bodied youngish people, if the worst happens, we will work it out and deal with it. ... If we have another hurricane next year, we'll figure it out'."

His long-term plan is to drill pilings, steel support beams in the bedrock, and rebuild the restaurant in stages 14 feet higher than creek level.

"It's a giant undertaking," he said.

"With the mandatory evacuation of the island, there was approximately $10 million in economic impact in the four days surrounding the storm in lost revenue to hoteliers and other tourism-related businesses forced to close," reported Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce president Bill Miles. "The economic storm caused by Irma definitely had an impact on our community." He cited local lodging partners and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort travel and tourism research for the data.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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