South Carolina still on edge from flooding; 2 people missing
Oct. 07, 2015
GEORGETOWN, S.C. (AP) — Rivers rose and dams bulged Wednesday as South Carolina faced another anxious day of waiting for the floodwaters to recede, and dive teams searched for two people who disappeared in waters after they drove around a barricade.
Along the coast, residents prepared for a second round of flooding as rivers swollen from days of devastating rains make their way toward the Atlantic. In the Columbia area, where some returned home to assess damage and clean up, the threat of more flooding still hadn't lifted.
About 1,000 residents near the compromised Beaver Dam were told to evacuate Wednesday morning, though the order was lifted several hours later when crews shored up the dam.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham warned the disaster could "break the bank" of federal emergency funds, possibly topping more than $1 billion.
At least 17 people in South Carolina and North Carolina have died in the storm.
In an extraordinary move for the football-crazy South, the University of South Carolina announced that it was moving Saturday's football game against No. 7 LSU some 700 miles to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. University officials said more than 80,000 fans expected for the game in Columbia would have put too much stress on infrastructure already compromised by the storm.
In coastal Georgetown, one of America's oldest cities, Scott Youngblood put more sandbags 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 worried there may be more flooding on the Black and Waccamaw rivers. 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 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."
Gov. Nikki Haley planned to visit the coast Wednesday afternoon. She said at a news conference that areas downstream of Columbia needed to stay vigilant for the next 24-48 hours as the mass of rainwater works its way to the Atlantic and threatens more floods.
"We're holding our breath and saying a prayer," she said.
Haley said emergency relief funds had been opened up for three additional counties and that federal assessors were examining two others.
"We're going to be here for a long time," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. "We're here supporting the governor."
Haley said 62 dams across the state were being monitored, and 13 had already failed. However, she said South Carolina was fortunate that the areas of concern represented only a small fraction of 2,000 or so dams regulated by the state.
Haley and other officials were asked repeatedly by reporters about whether the state had spent enough in previous years to maintain dams and other infrastructure.
"I think the analysis of this can be done after" the danger from the floods passes, she said in one testy response.
At a shelter in Columbia, Graham said it would take weeks to get a good damage assessment.
"We're talking hundreds of millions (of dollars), maybe over a billion," he said.
Graham also warned state and county officials not to use the disaster as an opportunity to ask for money unrelated to flood damage. He criticized the federal government's aid package to the Northeast following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, calling it a "pork-laden monstrosity."
Rescue crews searched for two people who vanished in Richland County when their pickup entered flood water. Sheriff's deputies said the pickup's driver went around barricade for a road that had been closed for several days after being washed out.
Three people managed to get out of the truck safely. Teams searched the area in rescue boats and dive gear.
Electricity had returned to most homes and businesses and about 10,000 people were without water, down from a peak of 40,000.
Roads and bridges were taking longer to restore: Some 200 engineers were inspecting more than 400 spots that remained closed Tuesday, including parts of Interstate 95.
The massive rescue effort that unfolded in previous days was illustrated when Haley said that state wildlife officials alone made at least 600 rescues and saved hundreds of pets from flooding. The overall number lives saved was likely much higher because numerous fire departments and law enforcement agencies were also performing water rescues at the height of the storm.
Associated Press writers Jeffery Collins, Susanne M. Schafer and Adam Beam in Columbia, South Carolina; in Columbia; Emery P. Dalesio in Effingham; and Meg Kinnard in Blythewood, South Carolina, contributed.