Saturday turned out to be a sparklingly beautiful fall day in Pawleys Island, an idyllic place to hold a wedding sandwiched between the Atlantic oceanfront and expansive marshland that typify South Carolina's coastal beauty.
For two visiting families, the perfect wedding almost got derailed by Hurricane Ian's landfall and aftermath.
Mary Lord and her family traveled to the island from Fort Worth, Texas, for the Saturday wedding of her son, Eric.
AJ McCullough's family came from Sunset Beach, North Carolina, to see her daughter, Monroe, walk down the aisle as the bride.
The families had been staying in rental houses across the street from one another on the island, about 72 miles (116 kilometers) up South Carolina's coast from Charleston.
Then the storm hit.
Ian was a Category 1 hurricane when it came ashore near Georgetown, about 13 miles (8 kilometers) from Pawleys. Hours of wind and rain battered the beach town, whipping surf reportedly as high as 25 feet (7.6 meters) that washed over the town's iconic pier, strewing its pylons along the shoreline and pushing them up to beachfront properties. Feet of soggy sand piled up under the elevated homes, stranding and waterlogging some vehicles.
In the mad rush to get off the island to the Friday night rehearsal dinner — which went off without a hitch, relatively speaking, the nearby country club venue not even losing power during the storm — the participants left behind the attire and decor they'd need for Saturday's wedding. Feeling more secure hunkering down further inland, Lord said the families settled into other rental properties, figuring they would deal with Saturday's details after the storm passed.
"We got off, when the storm was coming, but some of the bridesmaids dresses, tuxedos, decorations, we left there, thinking we could get back on this morning," Lord told The Associated Press on Saturday morning, standing on the northern causeway that connects Pawleys to the mainland. "But they said no, we cannot, not yet."
As crews assessed safety on the island, Lord and McCullough were told to wait, with barricades shutting down access to the strip of homes.
"If anyone is on the island who wants to bring us our things, we'd sure appreciate it," McCullough said with a smile.
For the next hour, Lord and McCullough methodically asked everyone they came across, on the inland side of one of the two causeway bridges, if they had a contact who could retrieve their wedding gear.
One man, Eddie Wilder, said he'd be happy to help out. As a property owner, he would be allowed across the causeway. So Lord and McCullough gave him the rental property access code and, via FaceTime, walked him through the place, encouraging him to "grab you a bottle or two" of celebratory beverages, including champagne they had stockpiled for the weekend.
Lord and McCullough were ecstatic to hear the gear was on its way.
"We just had a wedding, so I understand," said Renee Wilder, Eddie's wife, hugging McCullough as she handed over bags of gowns and tuxes.
"Everybody has been very optimistic, and look at this beautiful day," McCullough said, with a smile.