CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Authorities say at least nine people have died across South Carolina after a powerful line of storms, which included tornadoes, moved across the Palmetto State early Monday morning leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
During a Monday afternoon presser on COVID-19 and the severe weather, Gov. Henry McMaster called Monday morning’s storm a “new disaster” as the state continues the cleanup from the storm and its battle against the virus.
“I’ve seen a lot of hurricanes and a few tornadoes but this is really something,” McMaster said."The damage was also horrendous."
Officials with the National Weather Service reported that there were multiple EF2 tornadoes, which are tornadoes with wind speeds of 111 to 135 miles per hour, or greater move across South Carolina from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The latest death reported from the storm involved a grandmother who died after a tree crashed into her home in Walterboro which injured her husband and trapped a 1-year-old girl.
Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell said two Neeses residents died in a home on Preserver Road when the home was lifted up by heavy winds and carried over to the highway. Two others were seriously injured.
In Hampton County, authorities blamed the storms for five deaths.
A plant worker in Oconee County also died early Monday morning and his death was blamed on a tornado there. Four others who were in the plant suffered minor injuries, a company spokesperson said.
At the Lowcountry Regional Airport in Walterboro, officials said more than 30 planes had been damaged and as many as 20 had been totaled.
Richard Okulski with the National Weather Service joined the governor during Monday’s press conference and said the morning’s storms were the most significant, severe weather outbreak in South Carolina since March of 2008.
NWS officials said it could have been far worse if the storm had gone through the state in the afternoon during “peak heating” hours.
Okulski said it will take time to go through the counties and obtain a final report for the state in terms of any disaster declarations.
Damage survey teams are expected to continue to work in Hampton, Berkeley, Georgetown, and Dorchester counties. NWS crews have completed surveys in Barnwell, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties and reported the worst damage there from EF3 tornadoes, tornadoes with 136 - 165 mph winds.
“This is a very rare situation that I've only faced working in different parts of the country several times in my career,” Okulski said.”I'm grateful that the damage so far it's bad, but it could have been far worse.”
The State Emergency Management Division reported that at one point 290,000 customers were out of power due to the storms.
Kim Stinson with SCEMD said that as of Monday night there were less than 90,000 customers still without power, but he expected a large portion of those affected to regain power by the night’s end.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said about 2,500 trees came down across roads that included portions of I-26 and I-95.
Authorities said about 30% of those roads involved trees tangled up in powerlines.
Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall said roughly 70% of all roads affected would be reopened Monday, with about 30% of those affected roads carrying over to Tuesday as crews move into the most hardest hit areas.
The storms were blamed for at least 19 deaths and damage to hundreds of homes from Louisiana into the Appalachian Mountains.
The last remaining tornado watches covering Lowcountry counties expired by 11 a.m. after a powerful storm system damaged homes, trees and power lines across the Lowcountry.
Earlier Monday morning, multiple Lowcountry counties were under tornado warnings and more than half of the state was under a tornado watch.
The Live 5 Weather team declared Monday as a First Alert Weather Day last week because of the chance of potentially severe storms Monday morning.
There is a high risk for rip currents along the South Carolina beaches Monday.
Live 5 Chief Meteorologist Bill Walsh said the last of the storms will have moved out by Monday afternoon and dry conditions were expected Tuesday.
Another shower chance pushes in on Wednesday, he said.