BLUFFTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – Patrick Edgerton’s house was surrounded by 3 ½ feet of floodwater, but he and his friends were able to keep it down to just 2 inches inside.
Edgerton, 26, is a Martinsville native, the son of Steve and Cindy Edgerton and grandson of Virginia and Dr. Mervyn King. He lives in Bluffton, South Carolina, and is a Certified Gold Technician for a Porsche company in Beaufort, South Carolina.
When he heard about Hurricane Irma, he had a week to get ready. He’s lived in his house for two years, he said, and it would be his third hurricane. His house got about a foot of water during Hurricane Matthew despite being blocked with sandbags, he said – but by now, his protection techniques have evolved.
Throughout the Hurricane Irma flood, “there was a lot of MacGyvering going on,” he said. “It was exciting.”
When the flood was at its highest, police officers came through the neighborhood on boats to check on people, “which was really nice of them,” Edgerton said. He laughed when he said how surprised they looked when they saw him and his friends dumping buckets of water out the windows.
“I think everyone kind of thought we were crazy … but once people understood what was going on” with the waterproofing plan, they understood.
Developing the plan
Edgerton’s house “was built back in 1959, before any kind of flooding rules were in place for building homes off the ground … occasionally it’s right in harm’s way of something like this,” he said.
It does have a unique form of partial protection from flood, though – a tabby wall. A tabby wall is unique to his area, he said. It’s “an old-style wall, a concrete wall with crushed-up oyster shells on it and a bunch of sealant” between the concrete and the shells.
The wall would not let in water, so he just had to worry about the doors.
For each exterior doorway, he coated a ¾-inch piece of plywood with epoxy to make it watertight. He surrounded it with an aluminum frame “with a really good automotive marine weather-stripping seal that circumferences that and screwed it up against the door.”
These waterproof barriers were attached from outside the house, not inside, so that “as the water pressure rose it would push (the barrier) tighter and tighter against the house.”
He moved his furniture to another location and left his two cars at work, where they were safe. He parked his pickup truck as close to his neighborhood as he dared.
By the time Irma hit his area, it was “not too windy, but we had a lot of storm surge. They projected 4 to 6 feet of tide increase over the normal tides, and that combined with the wind pretty much flooded all of Alljoy (his community), and my home is one of those.”
The Barrier Islands and Hylton Head, just on the other side of the river, were under mandatory evacuation, he said, but people in his area were just recommended, not required, to leave.
Carrying out the plan
Edgerton started out the flood with one generator to power two small sump pumps, and three friends helping. The high tide was expected at 1:43 p.m. Monday.
By 11:30 a.m. or noon Monday, water was about a foot deep around his house, and the water reached its highest by around 1:43 p.m., he said.
The barricades at his doors worked — but water was coming in through other places, including the dryer vent, the toilet, the bathroom and some leaky areas of the floor and walls.
“It’s amazing how water just finds” ways to get in, he said. “It’s virtually impossible to stop it. It’s amazing how tricky it is.”
To block the toilet, “we had an ingenious idea,” he said. “We took a little toy, like a rubber ball, and deflated it. We shoved it down the toilet, then pumped it back up. It kept water from coming back. The shower and tubs, whenever they got to the top,” they’d pump out the water, “and it took them 20 minutes to fill back up.”
His girlfriend’s father, whose house was safe from the storm, brought over a second, larger generator to help him out.
“They brought it over as close as they could get it,” Edgerton said. He put an aluminum boat on a trailer, “walked it up the street, put the generator in it and walked back to the house and tied it to a picnic table.”
He also had to make a couple of trips out to his outbuilding and his swimming pool for fittings and equipment to keep things working continually. He had to grope around blindly through the water to find what he needed.
Between the two generators they were able to operate five pumps, he said. “If we had started with all that, we probably only would have had half an inch of water in the house.”
As the water rose, so did the water pressure, causing concerns about the strength of the walls to withstand it. “Enough wood and pieces of dock … were floating through my yard, so we just grabbed that and braced up all the stuff I made to prevent them” from caving in, he said.
“It was virtually impossible to man the pumps completely,” he said. “Water was slowly coming in, and we were able to stay on top of it. … Once the tide got to its highest point and turned around, the water went away.”
However, the ordeal wasn’t over: the next tide was due to come in 12 hours after the first one. He and his friends remained on duty.
He had made some makeshift beds so they could take naps and get rested. Also, “we went out and got lights and food and of course some more beer … because the next tide was going to be at 2 a.m., and we wanted to be prepared.”
The next tide, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, “was not nearly as bad,” Edgerton said. “The wind had changed direction. It came from the west, not the east, so … instead of bringing the river higher, it brings it back out to the ocean.”
‘It’s not a way to live’
Apart from the time he was fighting the flood, he’s been staying with a friend and the friend’s wife at the man’s parents’ house, Edgerton said.
Now he’s facing cleaning up everything. “Even though it was not 3 feet (inside the house), it’s still a mess, as you could imagine,” he said. “It’s way better than what it could have been. Obviously, I’ve got pieces of docks from the river in my yard and all sorts of stuff – it’s going to be a while cleaning up – but everyone’s got that.”
His power is back on now, and the only appliance that doesn’t work is the dishwasher, he said.
This ain’t his first rodeo, but it’s his best. During Hurricane Matthew, which “wasn’t nearly as bad storm-surgewise,” about 12 inches of water flooded his house. “That time, all I had was sandbags over the door,” he said.
It was a close call with Irma, he said. “Another 3 inches (of floodwater) and everything else I did would have been pointless. Another 30 minutes of it coming, it would have been the end of it,” because the water would have entered through the windows.
He figured out his Irma protection “on my own,” he said. “If I had done this a year ago with Matthew, my house would have been completely dry.”
Meanwhile, he’s looking into the possibility of having his house raised or having something else major done to help prevent this in the future.
“I’ve lived here for two years. This was by far the best” in terms of protecting his house from flood, “but it took two other floods to learn. If it ever happens again, I will be more prepared, but it’s not a way to live – move all your stuff out annually when hurricane season comes again.”