Residents plagued by repeated flooding hope the government will buy their house

Feb 23, 2017

Guy Dozier thought he had planned for the worst when he built his two story home 30 years ago. Just a twenty minute drive from Myrtle Beach, his home in Conway is elevated five feet above ground, higher than any anticipated flooding. That is until Hurricane Matthew late last year.

"It was just one more dirty stinky nasty mess," Dozier said.

The storm’s intense rains rose the nearby Waccamaw River to just inches below his floor. The stagnant water lingered there for days, ruining the air ducts and insulation underneath his home. He and his family left by boat.  

"The National Guard came by and helped us get some of our provisions," he said.

This is the third time in 20 years flooding has damaged his home and he is sick of it.  Dozier is one of many in Conway who want the government to buy out their homes.  

He said he is frustrated. "We just don’t want to go through this again."

The government buys out homes that repeatedly flood, on the condition nothing is built on that plot of land again. That's one house removed from the floodplain. Adam Emrick is planning director for the city of Conway. He said this is a way to protect people and property from flooding yet to come.

"It also creates a larger spillway for water and it removes people from harm's way," Emrick said. "We know there is going to be flooding in the future and by buying these people out [and] removing them from harm’s way, it’s a pro-active measure to keep them safe."

Conway participated in a similar buyout program after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Emrick said 22 houses were purchased and demolished . The recent storms have been a wake-up call to the city -- and an impetus to repeat the once-successful project.

"Everyone who lives here is impacted. You can’t get through the roads you want to get to. You know people having to get a kayak to get to their house," he said. "So we know pretty much from the start we needed to do something to help these people."

The city is applying to get a grant from the federal government to help cover the cost of buying out more than 60 homes.

But not everyone who had his or her home flooded, wants to move - like the Gannt’s, a couple in their 80’s. Bobby Gannt loves his home of 51 years and doesn’t want to leave.

"It's a brick house, ranch style. About seven rooms, a fireplace, hardwood floors, nice big yard, circle drive,” Gannt said. “We enjoy the neighborhood. churches, schools, shopping centers."

Gannt and his wife Virginia do worry about more bad weather, but the older they get the harder it is for them to leave.  

"Well we concerned about flooding, no one knows when it will come again," he said. "Right now, we plan on staying here."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recognizes buyouts are one of the most effective ways to move people out of the flood zone, but some say the program is small and slow. One of those critics is the National Resources Defense Council an environmental advocacy group. The group argues FEMA doesn’t spend enough on these buyouts, especially when compared to how much the agency spends on relief after a disaster.  

FEMA helps fund hundreds, sometimes thousands of home acquisitions each year. But agency administrator Michael Grimm said despite buying out several properties that repeatedly flood, those types of properties have increased by nearly 30 percent over the last decade.  

"It is hard to catch up in that disasters are happening all over the place. Flooding is the most common type of disaster," Grimm said. "We are always playing catch up and trying to get as far as we can."

On the lawn outside her one story childhood home in Conway, 65-year-old Mary Phillips wants her home to be bought out because she can’t in good conscious rent or sell it to another person knowing the flood risks.

"I don’t want anybody to go through this," she said. "There is no way I could do that. It’s like do you want to take a chance on living here. Whether it is rent or buy this from me."

Phillips hopes Conway gets the federal funding it's waiting to begin the buy-outs. Emrick said, if approved, this would be the first round of buyouts. The city is looking to buyout more repeatedly flooded homes in the future.