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

Last month, Richland County began accepting applications for the Returning Home program, which will use funds from the CDBGR-DR (Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery) to assist residents who lost their homes in the 2015 Floods. The county is accepting applications through June 15 (or until they receive 600 applications). To assist residents in completing the application, four community meetings are scheduled in June.

The first historic home to be given city approval to elevate to meet flood requirements sits near Colonial Lake in downtown Charleston.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

Jack Margolies is somewhat of a pioneer in Charleston historic preservation circles. He is the first to get approval to elevate his 1859 two-story yellow home to meet flood requirements.

“Basically they’re going to jack it up," he said. "They’ll put rods underneath house and all the rods will be synchronized to go up certain height at same time.”

Margolies got the go ahead by the Board of Architectural Review– a body that ok’s any changes to historic homes. This is the second time he has tried to get approval to elevate his home. Margolies believes this year he had the right circumstances because much of his home was destroyed during a fire and the place required major construction. 

Under the approved elevation proposal he will be raising his home about two more feet which includes altering the red brick steps and iron banister that lead to his Charleston style southern facing piazza. But he’s is careful to explain that the entrance will look straight out of the 19th century.

“An expert could come by and could possibly notice the difference. But the average tourist walking by the average Charlestonian wouldn’t notice any difference.”

Parking Outside Richland County Administration Building May 15.
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

Day two of intakes for Richland County’s homeowner flood recovery program brought in almost half the number of registrations that county will accept. Around Midday Tuesday, the county had accepted ‘just shy of 300” registrations, that’s according to Public Information Coordinator Natasha Lemon.

The county was expecting a large influx of residents on day one of intakes. South Carolina Public Radio spoke with the County’s long-term disaster recovery director Mike King at Noon; he said there was more of a steady stream.

Sumter Fire Department Reopens Flooded Training Facility

May 11, 2017
Sumter Fire Department Reopens Flooded Training Facility
Sumter Fire Dept. Facebook Page

It's been 19 months since the October 2015 flood. During this time, the Sumter Fire Department has held classroom training exercises in a portable acquired from the local school district. The classrooms in the department's training facility took on over 20 inches of water and sustained $500,000 in damages. The department recently celebrated the reopening of the facility. Battalion Chief Joey Duggan said it's a mixture of old and new that will better serve the area. South Carolina Public Radio's Thelisha Eaddy reports.

Residents affected by the historic October 2015 floods are encouraged to attend one of six public meetings Richland County will hold May 1 - May 11. Residents will receive information about housing rehabilitation and mobile home replacement assistance during this series of community meetings, which are being held in advance of the registration intake process scheduled to begin May 15. Click here for more information and a list of meetings.

Two portable buildings, previously used as office space, are being used as classrooms for Harmony School's preschool and kindergarten program.
Laura Hunsberger

As the end of the 2016-17 school year approaches, South Carolina Public Radio's Laura Hunsberger visited Harmony School in Forest Acres to find out how they are doing, now more than a year and a half after damage from the historic floods closed their preschool building.

Robert Zander's West Columbia home was heavily damaged by the historic rains that produced the flood of October 2015.  With help from a nonprofit disaster relief agency.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

The flood of October 2015 damaged homes it didn’t even enter, as West Columbia resident Robert Zander discovered the hard way. The historically heavy rains soaked the ground in his yard, causing a large tree to fall through his roof. Rain waters soaked the interior and rotted sheetrock all over the house. After a frustrating six months dealing with FEMA, Zander was about to give up when Hearts and Hands, a non-profit disaster recovery agency, showed up. Together with its partners in Brethren Disaster Ministries, repairs were made, even exceeding Zander’s expectations.

During a 2016 town hall meeting, Williamsburg County residents learn about the state's flood recovery program. Officials report the program is on track to help 1500 households.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

When the state’s 2015 flood recovery program was created, Program Director, retired Army Col. J.R. Sanderson knew $96 million dollars was not going to be enough money to recovery every resident who would have remaining unmet needs. SC Public Radio spoke with Col. Sanderson about how the new program is helping residents in 22 counties and what options will be left to those who the program cannot help.

“We’re at a point now in the program where I think we can show some substantial growth,” Col. Sanderson said. “I would say that right now, we feel good about where we’re at.”

From left to right: Suzanne Snyder, Stacy Massard, Carmen Bowie
Cooper McKim/SC Public Radio

Eighteen months after the devastating flood in October of 2015, three women from Columbia and Lexington are still not home. Stacy Massard, Carmen Bowie, and Suzanne Snyder continue struggling in the aftermath of the storm. They agree friends and family just don't get it; they're grateful for the bond between fellow flood victims.

Residents in Nichols, SC being rescued after Hurricane Matthew.
Courtesy of Nichols resident Courtney Wilds

The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office (SCDRO) will hold four town hall meetings this week to present the Hurricane Matthew action plan and obtain public feedback.

Much like the office's 2015 Storm recovery program, the Hurricane Matthew recovery program is designed to serve as many citizens as possible while concentrating on meeting the needs of the least resilient citizens. Based on public response, SCDRO may add or revise portions of the action plan before submitting it to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cayce Boat Landing Re-opens after 2015 Flood Damage

Mar 28, 2017
Thomas H. Newman Boat Landing
Josh Floyd/SC Public Radio

The only boat landing in Cayce is finally re-opening, after being closed since the devastating flood in October of 2015. The Congaree River mangled and disconnected portions the Thomas H. Newman Boat Landing, rendering it unusable. Mayor Elise Parton says she's been waiting for this day a long time -- she received many calls from locals asking when it would finally open back up.

Historic Cannonballs continue to be found in Charleston

Mar 24, 2017
A row of recovered cannonballs in the Charleston Museum
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

Live cannonballs from more than 200 years ago continue to be found in Charleston. The relics from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars occasionally wash up on beaches or are found underground. While some are inactive hunks of metal, others could still explode.

In an empty field near Charleston, military bomb experts are getting ready to detonate a rusted cannonball from the 1800's. The ordinance is buried underground and wrapped in C-4. An expert yells, "Fire in the hole!" as an explosion rips through the air.

For the past two years, South Carolina has suffered back-to-back disasters. The thousand year flood in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 damaged homes, took lives, and crippled businesses. One of the businesses hit the hardest by these events was farming. For farmers, the setbacks from the storms were massive. Federal Recovery Programs offered little help and insurance didn’t completely cover damages. Only what is harvested can be insured, so when disasters two years in a row lead to low yields for farmers, the insurance just wasn’t going to cut it.

Richland County Flood Recovery on Track

Mar 21, 2017
Richland County Farmland flooding in 2015
Provided by Michael King

The Red Cross and National Guard may no longer be on the streets of Richland County, but that doesn't mean recovery from the devastating 2015 flood is over. In fact, hundreds of people are still out of their homes in the county according to Mike King, Richland County's Long-Term Disaster Recovery Chief. He says there’s been a lot of progress in recovery, but there's still a long way to go.  

Beached vessel at Woods Bridge Marina
Provided by County of Beaufort

Beaufort County officials are planning to begin removing abandoned boats and dock fragments from its shores this week. A storm surge caused by Hurricane Matthew left a substantial amount of debris in several locations around the county.

Beaufort County Deputy Administrator Josh Gruber said, “It looks like a number of the boats and large pieces of the dock[s] were washed up into the marsh."

Hearts and Hands Disaster Recovery staff join Keoashaws Brewer and her family for a ribbon cutting ceremony as part of their "Welcome Home" celebration.
Laura Hunsberger/SC Public Radio


Laura Hunsberger recently spoke with Marilyn Gray, Midlands District Chair of the St. Vincent de Paul South Carolina Disaster Relief Program, and Dr. Lisabeth Medlock, Founder and Director of the Palmetto Project Community Flood Hub. Over the past year, Hunsberger has been following their work to provide furniture to families affected by the 2015 floods. In this interview, Gray and Medlock explain how their organizations, along with other community partners, developed a streamlined furniture distribution program.

Industrial Hemp Seen as a Potential Boon to Farmers

Mar 7, 2017
Sign at the end of the road near the Baxley's farm
Cooper McKim/SC Public Radio

On a 5000-acre farm in Marion County, the Baxley family grows corn, soybeans, tobacco, and peanuts. In the past few years, intense storms have ruined their harvesting season, denying the family much needed revenue.  Neal Baxley, who manages the farm with his dad, is interested in planting a new crop, one that's more flexible, resilient, and profitable. For Baxley, hemp is the answer. The only problem is hemp isn't legal to produce in South Carolina. Cooper McKim reports that the state is one of many currently trying to legalize hemp production this year.

Megan Doty (left), 628th Security Forces Squadron unit program coordinator, files out her travel voucher with Senior Airman James Hauck, 628th Comptroller Squadron financial technician.
Airman 1st Class Thomas T. Charlton

Last October, Hurricane Matthew brought considerable devastation to South Carolina in the form of strong winds and crippling floods. For the military men and women stationed at Joint Base Charleston, this created unique issues. They needed to safely evacuate the military base while also providing help to those in worse conditions. The decision was made to have air force members by-pass emergency shelters and instead find alternative living accommodations, like family, friends, or even hotels.

The telephone intake center at SC Legal Service in Columbia. On average, the law firm receives 25,000 calls a a year from low-income residents in need of legal assistance.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

Months after the historic 2015 flood, Rhonda Simpkins turned on her furnace and watched green mold cover her home. Denials from FEMA, SBA and her homeowner's insurance led her to South Carolina Legal Services. The nonprofit law firm was able to help Simpkins and others. Now, potential budget cuts in Washington has the firm concerned the work it provides, to help the state's most vulnerable residents recover from disasters and navigate the legal system, could also be cut.

Mullins Residents Face Flooding Two Years in a Row

Mar 1, 2017
Mullins resident Barbara Sellers stands in an apartment being renovated again after Hurricane Matthew flooded the area in October 2016.
Josh Floyd/SC Public Radio

About a year ago, I met Barbara Sellers, a resident of the Genesis II apartment complex in Mullins, SC. Genesis II is a community for low-income seniors, subsidized the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In November of 2015, while the area was still saturated from October’s floods, a severe storm inundated Barbara’s home. Barbara and her neighbors were evacuated by boat, and their apartments had to be completely renovated.

Rainfall from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 flooded the street and homes in the Pepperhill neighborhood.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

Amy Knoch recently moved back into her house. When I visited, she was weaving through a maze of Rubbermaid bins that were stacked in her living room. .

Knoch lifted the lid of one box full of office supplies and the next her child’s toys.

“It’s like an organized version of a hoarder’s house,” she said. “Everything is in bins based on what room it came out of but you have pathways between all of the rooms.”  

She and her family lived in an apartment for three months after flooding from Hurricane Matthew damaged her home.  

Guy Dozier had to use a kayak to get out of his house when it flooded in October 2016.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

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.

International Non-Profit Lends a Hand Close to Home

Feb 16, 2017
A tap stand being set up in Columbia.
Jennie Reeb/Water Mission

Water Mission is a non-profit based in Charleston focused on helping developing nations restore access to clean water, particularly following natural disasters. The group has projects around the world including Peru, Indonesia, and Kenya. In 2015, they used their purifying technology to help a city closer to home: Columbia. Cooper McKim has the story.

By the Numbers: Table shows progress of the state's 2015 flood recovery program to date

As of January 31, the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office has awarded 44 award letters to households with damage from the 2015 rain event and flood. To date, the office has allocated a little over $1.4 million of its nearly $97 million of disaster recovery funds.

Households in Florence, Georgetown, Sumter, Williamsburg, Berkeley, Clarendon and Orangeburg counties now have information letting them know they have been accepted into the states disaster recovery program.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin: State of City is Strong

Feb 1, 2017
During his State of the City Address, Tuesday, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin used the Virtual Inter-Columbia Intelligence (technology acquired from the Department of Defense surplus program) to highlight the city's strengths.
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

During his annual city address, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the state of the city is strong. Using technology acquired from the Defense Department's Surplus program, Mayor Benjamin highlighted the city's 3.8% unemployment, the creation of nearly 10,000 jobs within the past year and progress in continuing recovery efforts following the 2015 flood.

One SC Fund Announces Phase Five of Grant Awards

Jan 31, 2017
In October 2016, Bank of America Employees volunteered with United Way of Midlands, Central South Carolina Habitat for Humanity and Home Works of America to repair siding on a flood-damaged home in Columbia.
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

Eight nonprofit organizations will receive $380,000 to continue recovery work for damages caused by the 2015 flood as well as Hurricane Matthew. Grant money will help organizations purchase building materials, do general rebuild work, mold remediation and supply home furnishings. South Carolina Public Radio spoke with Jim Powell, Director of Development for Home Works of America, and learned how this round of funding will allow the organization to continue to help the most vulnerable in the Charleston area.

Dr. Nori Warren loves caring for pets at 4 Paws Animal Clinic. Forced to relocate by the historic flood of 2015, she hopes to return to a new building near the original clinic later this year.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

After the historic flood of October 2015 destroyed the 4 Paws Animal Clinic in the Columbia suburb of Forest Acres, a friend came to the rescue with a temporary site for the business.  Dr. Nori Warren and her husband, Will, immediately began planning to a return to their original building, which was still structurally sound. 

Edisto Beach Begins Project to Replenish Sand

Jan 31, 2017
Alexandra Olgin\South Carolina Public Radio

Bulldozers on Edisto beach move and shape sand that is being pumped onto beach. The dark watery mixture is spewing out of a series of connected metal pipes that go more than a mile out in the Atlantic Ocean. Those pipes lead to a dredge – the large machine stirring up the sand on the bottom of the ocean Thomas Payne, with Marinex Construction explains.

Payne is managing part of the beach renourishment project. He says the man operating the dredge will start by pumping water through the pipes.

SC residents from Darlington, Dillon, Florence and Marion Counties attend Team SC PeeDee Day in October 2016 to get information about disaster recovery following Hurricane Matthew.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

In three months, the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office (SCDRO) will close its mobile and fixed intake centers. To date, SCDRO has taken over 2,000 cases of people who still have unmet needs following the 2015 flood. South Carolina Public Radio learns, as this deadline draws near, the intake process for a program to help Hurricane Matthew victims is also approaching.

Recovery for Some South Carolina Farmers from 2015 Flood Is On-Going

Jan 24, 2017
Joe Jones tends his sheep, turkeys and chickens on his Blythewood farm.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Some farmers are just beginning to shake off the effects of the historic flood of October 2015, though others will take longer to come back.  One of those recovering is Eric McClam of City Roots, an urban farm in Columbia.  Because the farm is divided into two locations, one plot  was able to escape heavy damages and continue operating to help lift up the damaged second property.