South Carolina: Flood and Recovery

  Stories of people and communities going about the work of recovery from the floods of 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Credit Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

In October of 2015, South Carolina received rainfall in unprecedented amounts over just a few days time. By the time the rain began to slacken, the National Weather Service reported that the event had dumped more than two feet of water on the state. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the subsequent flooding was the worst in 75 years.

Then, one year later, rain and storm surge from Hurricane Matthew dealt a blow to many in South Carolina still at work recovering from the 2015 floods.

SC Public Radio Flood Coverage from the Beginning

Ways to Connect

Raised house at 42 Rutledge Avenue back on a new foundation.
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

How do you raise a large, historic home?  Better yet, how do you put it back down?  Should such an old  home be raised at all?  All are tough questions in a city that until recently had never lifted one before.

“There’s a lot of head scratching going on,” said long-time contractor Gary Walters.  He’s been working on a massive home at 42 Rutledge Avenue in Charleston, S.C. since last fall.  That’s when  its owner, Jack Margolies, finally got approval from the city’s Board of Architectural Review to raise the 1859 structure.

The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office provides home repairs and replacements to victims of the 2015 floods and Hurricane Matthew.
SCDRO

For the past few years, we've brought you a lot of stories about recovery from the 2015 floods and Hurricane Matthew. Many people across the state might be wondering "isn't this recovery taking a long time?" As JR Sanderson, Program Director for the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office, explains, the answer is yes—and no. 

The landscape of Sesquicentennial State Park was permanently altered by the floods of 2015. Pictured here is standing water that remains from the event.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

Between the autumns of 2015 and 2017, 47 of South Carolina’s state parks experienced temporary closures due to damages sustained during severe weather events, including the Floods of 2015, Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Irma and the Pinnacle Mountain Wildfire at Table Rock State Park. February marked an important milestone: for the first time since the fall of 2015, every affected park was reopened.

Meteorologist John Quagliariello of the National Weather Service encouraged preparedness for tornadoes, floods and other severe weather at a press conference on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

According to an official proclamation from Governor Henry McMaster, this week is Severe Weather and Flood Safety Awareness Week in South Carolina. It’s an occasion intended to encourage South Carolinians to prepare for potential severe weather scenarios.  

Charleston Chief Resilience Officer Mark Wilbert at the Battery.
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

Mark Wilbert has been the man the city of Charleston has turned to in case of emergencies.  He helped people prepare for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.   He was there after 9 parishioners at Mother Emanuel were killed.   Last August, he planned for a crowd of thousands in town for the solar eclipse.  Now the former city Emergency Management Director has a new job.  He's Charleston's first ever Chief Resilience officer.

Hurricane Katrina, August 28, 2005.
NOAA

Back in January, a diverse group of Midlands community members congregated at the United Way of the Midlands. Among the 20 or so assembled guests were lawyers, businesspeople, nonprofit staffers, and a vet. What they held in common was their shared action after a terrible natural disaster 12 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina battered the gulf coast.

Jeremy Cannon of Cannon Ag Products is one of many farmers who is still recovering from the flood of October 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

In September 2015, many farmers in South Carolina were looking forward to a promising harvest. The drought that began in 2014 had subsided in time for at least one crop to flourish remarkably well: by the time October rolled in, full, glistening fields of white cotton spread through rural South Carolina, just shy of ready for harvest. It seemed that farmers would see a rich reward for the stress of the long, dry months that preceded.

Surfboard Sledding in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, SC.
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

A winter storm brought rare snow and ice to South Carolina's Lowcountry last week. With a thaw finally in the weather forecast for the coast, and winter weather advisories in the Upstate, it's a good time to look back on the unusual--and beautiful--sights in the greater Charleston area, as captured last week by South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen.

The Holy City Hails Near Record Snowstorm

Jan 4, 2018
Surfboard Sledding in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, SC.
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

Parents packed up golf carts like snow mobiles as kids grabbed their sea worthy boogie boards and headed out in search of higher ground.  Hills are hard to come by in the Lowcountry.  But then again, so is snow.  Charleston got a rare thrill Wednesday.  More than five inches of snow swirled through palm fronds and gathered on the ground.  It's the most snow the area has seen since Hurricane Hugo and it would be enjoyed.

The Inclement Weather Center is located at 191 Calhoun Street, and opens on winter nights that are forecasted at 40 degrees or below.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

Winter is an especially difficult time of year for unhoused South Carolinians. As temperatures dip below freezing throughout the season, the threat of hypothermia is ever-present. That’s why several nonprofits in the Midlands have forged together each winter since 2014 to sponsor Columbia’s Inclement Weather Center (IWC), open from November 1 to March 31 on nights when the temperature is 40 degrees or below.

A satellite view of Hurricane irma on September 5, 2017.
NOAA

Last month, the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season finally came to a close. From June 1 to Nov. 30, South Carolinians were encouraged by SCEMD and other state agencies to be on high alert, especially after the severe storm impacts the state received during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Now that hurricane season has wrapped up, we called on John Qualiariello, a Columbia-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service, to reflect.

Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia commemorated his city's commitment to the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 Campaign in May.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio.

Since President Trump announced the U.S. would exit the Paris Climate Agreement back in June, redoubled support for the agreement has come from the local level, with mayors from around the nation pledging their cities' support for the Agreement.

Richland County meteorologist Ken Aucoin checks the weather several times daily to give accurate reports to county emergency managers.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Weather is constantly monitored in South Carolina by meteorologists for TV stations and the National Weather Service. But to keep people informed of—and protected from—threatening weather, Richland County has a unique advantage as the only county in the state, and perhaps one of few in the nation, to have its own meteorologist. Ken Aucoin is both the county’s meteorologist and an emergency manager, thus making the county uniquely positioned to respond quickly to bad weather.

Watching the Winds

Lou Alice James is the 200th homeowner to receive assistance from the Midlands Flood Recovery Group. Here, she clings to the one family heirloom that survived the mold, a crystal candlestick.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

Early this month, South Carolina reached the 2-year anniversary of the devastating October 2015 rain event, offering a natural opportunity to pause and observe the many tragedies that the widespread flooding wrought, and the many triumphs of recovery that have followed. The Midlands Flood Recovery Group, for its part, celebrated a significant milestone in its flood recovery narrative this month: the 200th home repaired by the group and the gift of a restored home for one resilient flood survivor.

Retired Army Major Miguel Santana stands in front of his home in Columbia. Santana says he is a victim of contractor fraud and it's stalling his flood recovery.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio.

Since 2005, the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) has received over 70,000 complaints from 50 states, 6 territories, and 4 countries involving over 50 natural and man-made disasters. Retired Army Major Miguel Santana says after the October 2015 flood, he became a victim of contractor fraud. His costly mistake is stalling recovery for what was to be his retirement home.

Another Nichols family returns to a repaired home
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

About 75 families have returned to repaired homes in Nichols, South Carolina. The small town in Marion County was home to 260 homes before Hurricane Matthew brought strong winds and devastating floods in 2016.  All but three sustained flood damage and most businesses were also impacted.  South Carolina Public Radio spoke with Mayor Lawson Battle and Disaster Recovery Advisor Rita Pratte about progress in recovery, one year after Matthew.

Instructors and presenters from Richland County's Flood Ready Seniors event. From left to right: Ben Marosites, Natasha Lemon, Winta Adams, and Sharon Long.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

If the past two years have taught South Carolinians anything, it’s that disasters are never out of the question, especially during hurricane season. County officials across the state have placed emphasis throughout 2017’s hurricane season on preparing the public for weather-related emergencies, putting their experience responding to the historic flood of 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 to good use.

Faces of Recovery: For the past two years, South Carolina Public Radio has shared the stories of survival and recovery from the Oct. 2015 flood.
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

Two years ago, Mary Burch watched and prayed as heavy rains caused the underneath of her family home to flood and eventually rot. Months later, the 77-year- old Sellers resident was living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions as mold started to grow and the structure of her homw was compromised from the flood. The week of the two-year anniversary of the October 2015 flood, Burch was able to walk through her near-finished new home. 

Clemson researchers are studying the role wetlands have in exporting carbon during floods and severe weather events. Shown here are wetlands of the Hobcaw Barony, home to Clemson's Belle W. Baruch Institute.
Dr. Bob Pohlad of Ferrum College via Flickr

It's no secret that access to drinking water can be limited during severe weather events. But what about the days and weeks that follow? According to research from Clemson's Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, water can still be unsafe weeks after residents' access to water has been restored.

Flooded dunes on Sullivan's Island before Hurricane Irma hit the Carolina coast.
Victoria Hansen/SC Public Radio

Tourists are attracted to Charleston not just for its history, but also for its beautiful ocean views and beach access. But the ocean’s rising levels also pose a major threat to coastal cities like Charleston, especially when they combine with large rain events like the hurricanes the city has weathered over past years. Since 2014, Charleston’s streets have been flooded consistently more often, from 11 days in 2014, to 38 days in 2015 and 50 days in 2016. 

Gov. McMaster holds press conference about Hurricane Irma, Wednesday, Sep 6, 2017. McMaster declared a state of emergency for South Carolina.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio.

Gov. Henry McMaster has declared a state of emergency in South Carolina to help prepare for a possible strike early next week from Hurricane Irma.

During a press conference Wednesday, McMaster stressed the declaration is a precaution and not an evacuation order. But he also urged residents to get ready for the possibility of Irma impacting the state.

"Pretend that a category three hurricane is arriving tomorrow morning, and do what you would do then, now."

Listen to the Complete Press Conference:

Georgetown Family Gets New Home Following 2015 Floods

Sep 6, 2017

The Bennett family is a tight knit group, but far from  small. There are 9 children, 6 women and 3 men.  Even those  who've  been around the family  long enough are considered kin.  All affectionately call 97 year-old Louise Chandler Bennett, "Momma" and are thankful for her new home.  Momma  just received the first so called, "stick built home" in the state,  following the 2015 floods.

Residents in Nichols, SC are rescued by boat after Hurricane Matthew in 2016
Courtesty of Nichols resident Courtney Wilds

The first 72 hours after a disaster are critical. The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) website reminds that electricity, gas, water and telephones may not be working and that public safety services such as police and fire departments may not be able to reach you immediately during a serious crisis.

The agency recommends individuals should be prepared to be self-sufficient (able to live without running water, electricity and/or gas, and telephones) for at least three days following a disaster.

This sign, erected by Clemson's Belle W. Baruch Institute, marks a plot that was originally a research environment for trees affected by Hurricane Hugo. In October 2016 the plot was affected by Hurricane Matthew as well.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

The Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown, South Carolina is a rare place. Situated between the Winyah Bay estuary and the Atlantic Ocean, the property contains both freshwater habitats and salt marshes, interspersed with loblolly and longleaf pine forests. The variable ecosystems that Hobcaw supports make it the ideal site for university research centers such as Clemson University’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science.

Columbia Canal Rebuild Could Be Years Away

Aug 29, 2017
View of the Columbia Canal from Riverfront Park
Laura Hunsberger

During the 2015 floods, the Columbia Canal breached at the Congaree River. It took the National Guard and a team of engineers days to build a temporary dam and secure the city’s water supply. In the months that followed, the City of Columbia began considering how to rebuild the canal and make improvements, a process that is still ongoing.

Lexington County Flood-damged home being rebuilt to new elevation guidelines
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated an additional $5 million to Lexington County REBOUND (REBuilding Our Neighborhoods after Disaster), the County's Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery program (CDBG-DR). REBOUND is designed to address the unmet needs of people whose property sustained damage during the October 2015.

"Some of the remaining flood issues are just those homes," said County spokesperson Harrison Cahill. "We still have some people who are out of their homes."

From left to right: Dr. Clayton Copeland, Dr. Robert Dawson and Dr. David Leach.
Olivia Aldridge/SC Public Radio

At the University of South Carolina, three faculty researchers have formed an unexpected research partnership in response to the Thousand-Year-Flood. Soon after the historic October 2015 rain event, a Dr. Clayton Copeland of the School of Library Science approached two of her colleagues from the School of Medicine’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program and proposed a joint study of disabled individuals’ experiences in relation to the flood.

Hurricane Matthew cuased major flooding in Nichols, SC in October 2016.
Courtesty of Nichols resident Courtney Wilds

The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office will begin accepting applications for citizens affected by Hurricane Matthew at mobile office locations. The applications are for a housing recovery program that will concentrate on the repair and/or replacement of homes based on eligibility and priority need. 

The first mobile locations will locate in Dillion and Walterboro August 12, 14 and 15. Other locations are: Loris, Gresham, Nichols, Sellers, Kingstree, Beaufort and Mullins.

Hurricane Matthew Mobile Intake Office Schedule

Many businesses in Nichols remain closed, nine months after Hurricane Matthew caused massive flooding in the area.
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

When rising river waters inundated the small town of Nichols, donated funds from all over the country also came flooding in. With the help of a recovery steering committee, the town is using the funds to help its residents recovery through two programs: the Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Grant Program and the Unmet Needs Assistance Program.

The two programs were created by Rita Pratte, SBP Disaster Recovery Advisor to the town. “I am working with the steering committee, helping them make decisions on how to spend their funds."

The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office logo.
SCDRO

Nearly two years after the historic October 2015 storm, many low-income homeowners are finally receiving assistance to repair their flood-damaged homes with the help of The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office, or SCDRO. SCDRO announced in a press release last week that it closed its application intake period for the October 2015 Severe Storm Program at the end of April—capping off at 3,755 completed applications—and has moved forward with home repairs and replacements for eligible applicants. 

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