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Idalia unleashes historic tides in Charleston, but city dodges worst of storm

Idalia offered the Holy City its first baptism of the hurricane season as historically high tides overtook sea walls and swamped the downtown.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) — Seagrass and Spanish moss slicked the sidewalks early Thursday morning on the peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, as residents surveyed the damage from Tropical Storm Idalia.

Richard Busby battled the debris with a broom outside his two-story home on Bennett Street. A municipal water pump growled nearby as the gray-haired man in galoshes greeted neighbors. He moved here from Wyoming a few years ago, he said, and was still adjusting to the summer storms.

“It’s all foreign to me,” he said, adding, “I like it — it’s just wet.”

Idalia offered the Holy City its first baptism of the hurricane season. Rain lashed the Lowcountry Wednesday evening as the ocean overtook the sea walls and sand dunes that protect the community’s pastel-colored homes and palmetto trees. The tropical cyclone conspired with a blue moon to create historically high tides, which crested at 9.2 feet Wednesday evening in the Charleston Harbor. Hurricane Hugo, a powerful tropical cyclone that demolished several coastal towns in 1989, created 12.5 feet tides — the highest on record. Idalia caused the fifth highest tides ever recorded in the city.

Wind gusts reached 64 mph in the harbor as stray tornados pummeled surrounding communities. A viral video spreading on social media Wednesday showed a car being ripped from the roadway by a tornado in Goose Creek, about 20 miles north of Charleston.

LJ Roscoe, the city’s police chief, said the accident happened before 1 p.m. Wednesday on U.S. Highway 52. The car was tossed into another vehicle and caused minor injuries to two people, she said.

“I spoke with both of the ladies that were transported to the hospital yesterday evening and both were home and stated that they were just sore,” Roscoe said.

Local meteorologists suspect another tornado touched down in a neighborhood northeast of Charleston, downing several trees and blowing a car onto the sidewalk.

Hurricanes, floods and sea level rise can cause damage in Charleston ranging from “extensive” to “catastrophic,” but the city avoided the worst of the storm’s impacts this week. By 10 a.m. Thursday, city police were reporting no street closures and reported power outages were minimal.

Residents offered a common refrain in the morning — It could have been worse.

Paul Keefer and his wife monitored a sewer drain Thursday morning outside their home on Ashley Street in downtown Charleston. Flood waters crested at about 15 inches during the storm and trickled into the garage and basement, Keefer said.

The couple had flood concerns when they bought the home. A man floated down the street in a kayak when they first inspected it 10 years ago, Keefer said. But they couldn’t resist a house surrounded by city parks in the heart of historic Charleston.

“It’s a cute location,” Keefer said.

A.J. Frazier and Joanna Doctor-Harris braved fierce winds early Thursday to fish from the Pitt Street Bridge in Mount Pleasant. The bridge once spanned Cove Inlet, but Hurricane Hugo shredded the wooden structure. Today, the bridge ends abruptly in the middle of the inlet.

Frazier, a 33-year-old lifelong fisherman, insisted the choppy waters got the fish biting. Doctor-Harris watched the moon over the bay from a park bench. The Minnesotan seemed less enthusiastic about their predawn expedition.

“I just hope we don’t get swept away,” she said.

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Categories / Environment, Regional, Weather

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