AIKEN, South Carolina — Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday this week's ice and snow storm has devastated parts of South Carolina worse than a hurricane.
The Republican governor said her driving tour of downtown Aiken made her understand why the storm left 350,000 people without power at the peak. Statewide, that number had dropped to under 225,000 by midday. Nearly a quarter of those were in Aiken County alone, where downed trees, branches and power lines littered roadways.
"What we are seeing here is worse than, I think, we would see with a hurricane. I knew this was going to be worse than 2004," Haley said of the state's last major ice storm. "I didn't know this was going to be in the same realm as Hugo. To look at these neighborhoods and see the trees down and on houses — to see all of the devastation that's happened to this community — is terrible."
The landscape of Aiken, a city that takes prides in its stately trees, has been completely damaged, bu what matters, she said, is that people stay safe and help their neighbors.
"We can put up new trees. We can get the debris off the roads," she said. "It's about lives and making sure we're taking care of people."
As heavy as the damage was in Aiken, she said, she knew it would be worse in Colleton County, where she was headed next, to tour parts of Walterboro. Rural areas of the state have fewer resources than Aiken, she said: "That's the part that troubles me."
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama declared South Carolina a disaster area, at Haley's request.
Haley said she asked for the declaration out of precaution and may make specific requests for federal help later Friday. That could include large generators for water plants. Parts of Aiken County lack water service too.
"Today's going to be the day we decide whether we need generators, food, water, anything we don't have," she said.
Keller Kissam, president of SCE&G retail operations, said the storm has been as devastating to the utility's infrastructure as Hurricane Hugo. It will be Monday before most of Aiken County will be cleaned up and power restored, though some areas will take longer, he said.
The ongoing storm and ice buildup complicated restoration earlier in the week, as lines continually went down, said Gary Stooksbury of Aiken Electric Co-Operative, explaining why some customers' power went in and out. One circuit in Edgefield County went down seven times, he said.
"For the first two days, we put up lines, and they tore down right behind us," he said.