CHARLESTON -- Irma pounded South Carolina with tropical-storm winds Monday, spawning tornados and a record-breaking tidal surge that put vast swaths of the Lowcountry under water.
Worse than Hurricane Matthew's surge last year, Irma generated a 9.9-foot tide, 4 feet above normal. It was the third highest reading in the past 80 years, behind only Hurricane Hugo and a 1940 hurricane.
The surge put White Point Garden under water and sent water coursing through downtown Charleston's historic neighborhoods. Residents could be seen wading through hip-deep water; a jon boat with four people aboard cruised down South Battery, sending a wake into people's yards.
Surging waters poured over dunes on Edisto Beach and the state's other barrier islands. Waves picked up the famed "Folly Boat," a frequently painted boat that earlier Monday had been on high ground off Folly Road. It ended up next to a dock off Sol Legare Road. Folly residents reported that it had the words "this too shall pass" painted on it.
In Mount Pleasant, the parking lots on both sides of Shem Creek were underwater, swamping some cars whose owners had the bad luck to park there. "I've never seen anything like it," Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said.
Despite its weakening winds Monday afternoon, Irma’s massive bands still stretched 415 miles from its core, the National Hurricane Center said. And its degraded winds still generated powerful gusts: more than 58 mph at the north end of Folly Beach at 10:20 a.m., 42 mph in downtown Charleston, 43 mph in Walterboro.
Irma's bands also brought heavy rain, and forecasters expected as much as 8 inches in the Charleston area. By noon, wind and rain had downed trees and powerlines in Summerville and West Ashley. It tore through docks on James Island and Mount Pleasant.
The story was similar farther south, where the surging storm water caused major flooding in Beaufort County.
About 200,000 customers across South Carolina were without power at 10 a.m., utilities reported.
On Edisto Beach, hard-hit last year by Matthew, the Atlantic streamed across the beach, whipping up foam and putting a foot of water on Palmetto Boulevard. Visibility was near zero at noon as a violent swirl and wind pushed through.
The mayor of a South Carolina beach town under mandatory evacuation orders said seven people had been rescued from rising floodwaters.
Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby says a family of four was rescued from their car about noon Monday from a curve near the beach's pier. She said the family had "decided all of a sudden" they needed to leave.
They were among an estimated 70 people still in the town of 530 people, despite Gov. Henry McMaster's evacuation order Friday night.
Darby said emergency officials also rescued three media employees.
Darby said the Edisto Beach is "under water," with power lines and trees down. The town suspended all emergency calls because "it's too dangerous."
By 10:30 a.m., NOAA's tidal gauge in Charleston was at 7.5 feet, the point when the Atlantic pushes onto land. As the minutes ticked, more water moved inland. It bubbled out of manholes near Calhoun Street. It poured across Lockwood Boulevard by the City Marina; it filled the low-lying areas around the Medical University of South Carolina and washed over the road by the Washout on Folly Beach.
An hour later, it was a foot higher. It flowed like a stream from the Cooper River onto Romney Street. At the small park at the end of Charlotte Street, near the South Carolina Aquarium, hermit crabs crawled out from the harbor onto the sidewalks, displaced by the waves. Small lakes formed throughout the Eastside, especially near Grace Bridge and America streets.
By noon, the walls along the Battery had ceased to keep the Ashley River back, and neighborhoods there were now part of Charleston Harbor. In Mount Pleasant, U.S. Highway 17 north was impassible at Towne Centre. Boone Hall Creek was lapping at Long Point Road.
At 1 p.m., winds were still howling, and tidewaters had reached 9.9 feet on NOAA's gauge downtown, eclipsing Matthew's floodwaters by half a foot. Hurricane Hugo generated a 12.52-foot tide in 1989, and a storm in 1940 generated the second-highest tidal surge at 10.23 feet.