'Minor' Tornado Damage Hits $8 Million
Posted July 9, 2001
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — What Myrtle Beach officials were calling minor tornado damage at one time Saturday has ballooned to a bill of about $8 million.
The tornado hit the Myrtle Beach area without warning about 4:15 p.m. Friday.
On Saturday, people began cleaning up, sweeping up broken glass and gathering up scattered patio furniture.
Although city officials said that most place had minor damage, they said that two hotels were hit the hardest.
The owner of the Bar Harbor Hotel said that the damage at his hotel appears worse than when Hurrican Hugo hit in 1989.
Police officials evacuated some 300 people from both the Bar Harbor and the Land's End Hotel.
Governor Hodges toured Myrtle Beach on Saturday to see if the town qualifies for federal disaster aid.
"The good news is the damage is minimal," Hodges said, "There are only 150 hotel rooms out of service out of 60,000."
A tornado wasn't something that most people expect to see at Myrtle Beach.
"In this area, generally we expected the hurricanes," city public information officer Mark Kruea said.
City officials said that it has been five years since a tornado touched down in Myrtle Beach.
"We think it began as a water spout and skipped in from the ocean, over the land and sort of hopped and skipped around," Kruea said.
It all happened as Stephen Wilkie sat in his brother-in-law's car.
"A power line dropped down on the car and started sparking on the pole," Wilkie said.
Wilkie escaped to shelter as the tornado made its way down three blocks along Ocean Boulevard.
City officials stressed Saturday that although there was some damage, it was isolated along a long stretch of oceanfront. Most hotels, motels and restaurants were unaffected.
Officials may call the damage minor, but tourists see things a different way.
"It was about the scariest thing I've ever seen," said Wilkie.
One stretch of Ocean Boulevard was closed Saturday, which caused some traffic jams.
The 200 to 300 hundred displaced hotel guests reclaimed their belongings Saturday, after spending the night in neighboring hotels or a shelter set up by the city at an area church.
Power company crews worked through the night Friday, restoring service to the 40,000 customers who were knocked out during the storm.
Kruea said that about 35 people were injured, but that all of the injuries were minor.
"This is a two- to three-block area where we have some scattered damage," Kruea told News 4. "Myrtle Beach itself is 9½ miles and the Grand Strand's about 60 miles, so everything is up and running. If you have a reservation for the next week or so, call ahead, but we're here, the beach is great, the weather's fine today."
'You Had Time To Be Nervous'
The storms hit on one of the biggest tourism weeks of the year in the resort area.
"We have 400,000 or 500,000 people on the Grand Strand right now. We may be the biggest city in South Carolina at this point," Kruea said.
The tornado apparently formed after a waterspout spun ashore and it roared along the south end of Myrtle Beach's business district.
The severe weather started just before 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The tornado touched down south of the Pavilion area, Kruea said.
"We could see a waterspout from city hall here," Kruea said. "Some people were quite scared during all of this. It lasted 15, 20, even 30 minutes sepending on where you were on the beach. It was not a quick thing and then it was over -- you had time to get nervous."
Warnings about the tornado were delayed because the radar at the region's National Weather Service office had been struck by lightning and was not operating.
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