South Carolina faces ’new disasters’ after tornadoes kill nine

COLUMBIA, S.C. - "We have a new disaster on our hands now," Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday.

The governor was speaking Monday at one of his regular news conferences to update the state on the coronavirus outbreak. But South Carolina suffered another blow early Monday when heavy storm winds and tornadoes struck the state from the Upstate to the Lowcountry.

McMaster said the state is assessing the financial impact of the storm damage so the state could pursue a disaster declaration and receive federal support to help with the recovery.

Property damage was reported across South Carolina on Monday. At least 9 people were killed, and at one point more about 290,000 customers across the state were without power. By 6 p.m., that number was reduced to about 90,000.

The National Weather Service said the tornadoes were the most destructive in South Carolina since 2008. Damage from one tornado stretched over 30 to 50 miles, said NWS meteorologist Rich Okulski.

In Orangeburg County, a married couple were killed when a tornado with wind speeds up to 140 mph lifted their home off the ground, the Orangeburg County Coroner's Office said.

Earlier on Monday, McMaster flew in a state National Guard helicopter to survey storm damage near Seneca, where a 77-year-old security guard died when the building he was in collapsed.

McMaster offered prayers for those killed in the disaster. He described seeing houses destroyed and cars overturned on his visit to the Upstate.

"Everything is smashed but the spirit of the people," McMaster said.

Elsewhere in the state, five people died in Hampton County, and one died in Colleton County. The Red Cross has placed three people affected by storm damage in hotels. Officials were unsure Monday how many tornadoes may have touched down statewide.

The state Emergency Management Division will conduct damage surveys through Wednesday. Barnwell and Orangeburg counties saw the highest wind speeds, while EMD's Ken Stinson said other heavily affected areas include Aiken, Berkeley, Colleton, Oconee and Pickens counties.

Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said 2,500 trees were down on state roadways, including many that took down power lines, and 2,000 road workers were deployed to get them cleared. Around 30% of those roads were still obstructed Monday afternoon, Hall said, and additional crews will be deployed to Hampton County.