Round 2: Downstream South Carolina towns brace for flooding
GEORGETOWN, S.C. (AP) – Along South Carolina’s coast, residents were preparing for a second round of flooding as rivers swollen from days of devastating rains make their way toward the Atlantic.
In Georgetown, one of America’s oldest cities, Scott Youngblood was putting more sandbags Tuesday by the door of the Augustus & Carolina furniture store on Front Street, the popular tourist attraction that runs along the Sampit River.
Each day since last weekend’s storm – which sent more than a foot of water washing down the street – water at high tide has lapped against those sandbags. Residents are concerned there may be more flooding on the Black and Waccamaw rivers – two waterways cited as worrisome by Gov. Nikki Haley. Both drain into Georgetown County.
The Waccamaw was expected to crest at 5 feet above flood stage in Conway, in Horry County, on Thursday. The Black crested Tuesday upstream at Kingstree at about 10 feet above flood stage, breaking a record, town officials said.
Youngblood hopes things won’t be as bad this time as earlier in the week.
“We’re hanging our hat on that we’re not going to have that combination of tide and rain and such,” he said. “We had so much rain but the primary thing we were experiencing was the water table coming up through the bottom bubbling up from beneath the flooring. We had quite a bit of damage.”
Meanwhile, crews were working Wednesday morning to stabilize a compromised dam in Richland County. Sheriff Leon Lott told local news outlets crews worked through the night to repair a sinkhole that formed near the Beaver Dam in the northeast part of the county.
Crews from the South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. are pumping water out of the pond to relieve pressure on the dam.
The Emergency Management Division said a reverse 911 call went out just before 10:45 p.m. Tuesday urging residents within a half-mile radius of Beaver Dam to seek higher ground immediately. Lott said the evacuations were voluntary and he didn’t think more would be needed.
Tom and Christine Doran, retired teachers who recently moved to a riverfront apartment in Georgetown, were moving their belongings out Tuesday after battling tides and rain for four days.
“The first flooding was Saturday afternoon and we kept ahead of that with a wet vac and we thought, ‘We’ve got this,'” Tom Doran said. “Then it just started coming in from all sides. It was just too high. Every afternoon with the high tide it floods up to 5 inches.”
After taking an aerial tour of damaged areas on Tuesday, Haley said that while the sunshine was a good sign, the state still needs to be cautious.
“We are going to be extremely careful. We are watching this minute by minute,” she said. She said evacuations may be needed toward the coast because of rivers swollen from the storm, which has killed 15 in South Carolina and also claimed two lives in North Carolina.
In Effingham, about 80 miles east of Columbia, the Lynches River was about 5 feet above flood stage Tuesday. Scott Goodwin, his wife and their two dogs left their home on the river’s bank on Saturday afternoon, concerned the day’s intense rain would flood their gravel road and leave them marooned. The water on the road was already up to the bumpers of their pickup trucks as they left, said Goodwin, 44, who works as a welder.
Goodwin said they packed clothes to stay a couple of days with his wife’s parents, never expecting the river could rise as much as it has. It will be at least this weekend before the road clears enough for them to be able to reach their home. Goodwin is resigned to the possibility that the home and their belongings are a total loss, but comforted by the knowledge they have the maximum amount of flood insurance.
Haley said it was too soon to estimate the damage statewide, which she said could be “any amount of dollars.” The Republican governor quickly got a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, freeing up money and resources.
Distributing safe drinking water was a challenge. In the region around Columbia, as many as 40,000 homes lacked water, although some service was restored Tuesday. Mayor Steve Benjamin said 375,000 water customers will likely have to boil their water before drinking or cooking for “quite some time.”
The power grid was returning to normal after nearly 30,000 customers lost electricity. Roads and bridges were taking longer to restore: Some 200 engineers were inspecting more than 470 spots that remained closed Tuesday, including parts of Interstate 95. As of late Tuesday, that number had dropped to 436, the South Carolina Department of Transportation said in a news release.
South Carolina was soaked by what experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called a “fire hose” of tropical moisture spun off by Hurricane Joaquin, which mostly missed the East Coast.
Authorities have made hundreds of water rescues since then, lifting people and animals to safety. About 800 people were in two dozen shelters, but the governor expects that number to rise.
The Black River reached 10 feet above flood stage in Kingstree, breaking a 1973 record by more than 3 feet, according to Town Manager Dan Wells, who found himself involved in a porcine rescue mission Tuesday.
After a wild hog fell into the rushing river and slammed into the town bridge, Wells and a colleague shot the exhausted porker with a stun gun, trussed its legs with duct tape and pulled it into a pickup truck to be released in a nearby forest.
“It wasn’t on my list of things to do today, I can tell you that,” said Wells.