Storm cleanup will take a while, officials say

Barnwell County residents heard an update Sunday from county officials about the ongoing cleanup process following the damage left by winter storm Pax.

As of Sunday afternoon, around 2,500 homes are still without power, Roger Riley, the county's Emergency Management Director, told a crowd of people at First Baptist Church in Barnwell.

County Administrator Pickens Williams Jr. said the damage caused by frozen tree limbs that fell is county wide.

"I don't know that we've ever seen as much devastation in the last 30 years or so here in the county all at one time," he said.

Williams stressed the need for patience while crews clear roads and electrical companies work to get power back on.

Riley said there are still plenty of county roads that are completely blocked by fallen debris. He said there may have been 1,000 electrical lines that were down after the storm.

For those with yard debris, no matter where you live in the county, officials are saying to move the debris close to the side of the road and it will be picked up eventually ... but possibly not for months.

It doesn't matter how big the debris is, officials said, but don't let it block fire hydrants or clog sewer drains.

A representative with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was at the meeting and said thresholds for the amount of debris will probably be met in order for FEMA to release funds to counties and the state.

Do not burn your debris, officials said, it will all have to be weighed and accounted for in order for the county and the municipalities to receive federal aid -- money -- for the cleanup process.

For people clearing debris from their yard, officials said don't use a chainsaw if you don't know how. The same thing goes for portable generators, they said.

Barnwell County Emergency Management Division in conjunction with South Carolina Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief is offering chainsaw debris clearing services.

Priorities will be placed in the following manner: Elderly, Un-insured, Under-insured, or Homeowner insured. If it is a rental property - property owner information and signature will be required. People can call (803) 541-1135 or (803) 541-1159 to request the service.

Barnwell City Fire Chief Tony Dicks said the city will not be issuing any burn permits for fallen debris.

Riley said county crews are working to get roads cleared right now, especially secondary roads and dirt roads -- so emergency crews can get through if necessary.

"If you need an ambulance, I want to make sure one can get to you," Riley said.

Officials said they will continue to provide information and updates, especially about debris pick up, as the process moves forward.

Barnwell County Councilman Jerry Creech thanked all the workers and volunteer firefighters for their work. People in attendance at the meeting offered a round of applause in support of all those helping to get the county through this tough time.

One message that came from the meeting is that Axis One and other organizations helping needy families and individuals affected by the storm will need donations from the community during this time.

State Rep. Lonnie Hosey was at the meeting and offered a prayer for the community.