South Carolina

Officials: SC ‘not out of the woods yet’ from threats left by Florence

The only way to navigate this Conway community is by boat

Floodwater continues to rise quicker than these Conway residents expected it to.
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Floodwater continues to rise quicker than these Conway residents expected it to.

While Florence has left South Carolina, threats from the storm linger.

After being deluged with rain, Pee Dee residents are bracing for more flooding from the Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Lumber and Waccamaw rivers. All continue to rise and are expected to crest later this week into next week.

“We saw a lot of flash flooding over the last couple of days,” said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division. “Now, what we’ll start to see over the next few days is that slow march of the water along the river system to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s gong to result, potentially, in a significant amount of flooding.”

Extraordinary rainfall hit the Carolinas with Hurricane Florence. As much as 2 feet of rain fell on parts of North Carolina, with more than 20 inches of rainfall recorded in some parts of the eastern South Carolina since Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Rain in North Carolina was swelling creeks and rivers that flow into South Carolina, forcing dozens of people to flee for higher ground Sunday and Monday in Cheraw and Chesterfield County. At least one dam failed in Chesterfield Sunday night, leading to high-water rescues and evacuations by the S.C. National Guard.

“It’s going to be so crucial for folks to be mindful of the weather” and heed warnings from local public safety officials, Becker said. “We are not out of the woods yet. This is just getting started in terms of the actual life-safety threat to residents of South Carolina, particularly in the Pee Dee.”

Rivers in the Pee Dee are expected to crest starting Tuesday and continuing through the end of the week.

The Waccamaw River in Conway rose nearly five feet above flood stage Monday. It is forecast to crest next week at nearly 19 feet, as high as during Hurricane Matthew, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Guard conducted water rescues Monday morning in Conway. About 30 homes had flooded, a guardsman told The State. And residents in north Conway’s Sherwood neighborhood were packing up and leaving Monday as water rose up from nearby Crabtree Swamp.

Numerous roads and bridges have been washed out in Chesterfield County, which saw 20 inches of rain. Cheraw recorded 22.58 inches of rainfall, according to the National Weather Service.

In Cheraw, the Pee Dee River, which flows out of North Carolina, is forecast to flood at near-record levels.

The Pee Dee swelled more than 10 feet above flood stage Monday afternoon. The river is forecast to rise another 9 feet before cresting Tuesday at just under a record 50 feet, and then slowly recede to just above flood stage by Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is something that’s going to take a while to develop, and then even more time — the first week or two of October — for these rivers to get back down well-below flood stage,” said Leonard Vaughan, hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

Creeks that feed into the Pee Dee River had risen so high that dozens of people have had to evacuate to higher ground.

The National Guard evacuated resident from Bennettsville and Chesterfield County to local shelters Sunday evening due to rising flood waters.

Heavy rains also forced the evacuation of a shelter in Cheraw Sunday night. More than a foot of flood water crept into the town’s community center, forcing those inside to evacuate to Cheraw High School.

In the Midlands, the only river system expected to see issues is the Catawba River basin. After heavy rainfall Sunday in the Charlotte area, Lake Wateree is expected to rise two feel above full pool, sending water over its dam, Vaughan said.

“For the people living around the lake, some of that water will back into their yards,” Vaughan said. “But, we’re not expecting any flooding flows through the Camden area.”

Vaughan added: “This is going to be very similar to what happened during (Hurricane) Matthew two years ago. If you lived in a place that flooded during Hurricane Matthew ... you’re most likely going to be flooding out with this event as well.”

President Donald Trump Sunday declared a major disaster exists in South Carolina and approved federal reimbursement to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Florence. The counties included in the disaster declaration are Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Orangeburg and Williamsburg.

Trump’s declaration approved Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements to help local governments, state agencies, non-profits and electrical nonprofits recoup their costs for actions during Florence. Agencies affected by the order can apply to be reimbursed for 75 percent of their costs, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Money can be spent on debris removal, hazard mitigation and any emergency services.

More counties may be added and eligible for assistance as damage assessments continue in other areas, according to a White House press release.

McMaster requested the declaration Sept. 9, as Florence, then a major hurricane, took aim on the S.C. coast.

The governor boarded a helicopter Monday afternoon at the S.C. Emergency Management Division to view rising floodwaters.

McMaster flew to Chesterfield, where he picked up the Chesterfield County sheriff and state Rep. Richie Yow, R-Chesterfield, and headed to Cheraw and Conway. There, he assessed from the air work being done on a temporary 1.5-mile barrier on the U.S. 501 Bypass and the flood’s threat to nearby coal ash ponds.

A video from the Associated Press, which was aboard the helicopter, showed people trapped on the roof of their car near Wallace. First responders on the ground were contacted and were on the way to the scene, according to the AP.

Florence’s toll

Roads

Nine miles of northbound Interstate 95, just south of the S.C.-N.C. border, are impassable because of flooding, the S.C. Department of Transportation said Monday.

Sections of S.C. 9 and S.C. 707 in the Myrtle Beach area were also closed Monday due to flooding, and a portion of U.S. 701, north of Conway, was washed out from Clio Road to State 19 at Allsbrook Store.

Transportation Department crews Monday morning completed one side of a temporary, mile-long barrier on U.S. 378 to divert water along the Lynches River in Florence County, and were expected to finish all work Monday night. State officials said U.S. 378 likely will be the only available route for access into Horry County.

The U.S. 501 Bypass also is expected to be the only route crossing the Waccamaw River leading into the Myrtle Beach area, the Transportation Department said. The agency is working on placing a temporary, 1.5-mile barrier on the U.S. 501 Bypass in Conway. That work is expected to be completed sometime Wednesday, said spokesman Pete Poore.

Residents can report road damage by calling 855-467-2368 or by going here.

Power outages

S.C. power outages dropped Monday from a peak of nearly 200,000 residents without power, during the height of the storm, to about 13,800 without power in Chesterfield, Marlboro, Dillon and Marion counties.

Damage

S.C. officials do not yet have a sense of the damage caused by Florence, but that assessment is taking place.

“One of the things people can help us do is try to get that preliminary sense of how severely we were affected in South Carolina” by reporting damage to homes and businesses through the SC Emergency Manager mobile app, Emergency Management spokesman Becker said.

“It doesn’t register you for any sorts of federal programs or assistance, but it does give local emergency managers and state agencies the general idea of just how significant this disaster is,” he said. “And potentially could make us eligible” for additional assistance.

By the numbers

10 emergency shelters were open Monday, including eight shelters for people with special medical needs. Lists of available shelters can be found at www.scemd.org

One kitchen is open in Florence and another is opening in Conway

500 search-and-rescue personnel are on standby and prepared to assist people as needed.

The Public Information Phone System has answered more than 11,000 calls. Many Monday concerned road conditions and re-entry routes.

Anyone interested in volunteering can go to www.volunteersc.org to register.

Reporters Avery Wilks and Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report;
Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83
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