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

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. 

SC Safe Home Director Ann Roberson distributes information on storm readiness at the Bluffton Storm Ready Expo
Haley Kellner/SC Public Radio

Many homeowners near South Carolina’s coast were left to deal with significant property damage in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Now, early in 2017’s hurricane season, which began in June and runs through November, there are options for coastal South Carolinians who want to prepare for storm damage. One of them is the South Carolina Safe Home Program, a grant program operated by the South Carolina Department of Insurance to help offset the cost of home alterations that mitigate storm-related damages.

Focus Group in Columbia Brings Partners in Flood Recovery Together

Jul 7, 2017
Participants in the focus group held at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Columbia brainstorm how to reach volunteers for the ongoing flood recovery efforts.
Laura Hunsberger / South Carolina Public Radio

At St. Mark United Methodist Church in Columbia, organizations and state agencies met for a focus group last month to share their systems for finding volunteers to work in the ongoing disaster recovery. Bryant Archie was one of the participants in the focus group. As an AmeriCorps Volunteer, he serves as a Client Services Coordinator for SBP, one of the disaster relief organizations at work in the state. Archie says he wanted to get involved with disaster recovery because for him, the 2015 floods hit very close to home.

Hundreds of Williamsburg County seniors during Senior Market Day in Kingstree to receive vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables from certified farmers.
Haley Kellner & Makayla Gay/ SC Public Radio

The deadline is fast- approaching for a health center in Williamsburg County to collect information from survivors of the October 2015 flood. Hope Health and the American Red Cross are looking for people in the area who are experiencing specific complications from mold. The information they collect will help residents get the medical care they need and potentially lead to more resources to help them fully recover the historic event.

When the deadline for the survey passes, many flood victims would have been living with mold for more than one year and eight months.

Troubles caused by the historic flood of October 2015 were accompanied by one tiny bright spot: the flood temporarily refilled the state's groundwater supplies, which had been in decline through years of drought since the 1990s.
Courtesy of Nichols resident Courtney Wilds

For many who experienced the destruction of South Carolina’s October 2015 flood, it’s perhaps difficult to imagine that the state was plagued by a drought prior to the historic rain event. Despite the monumental devastation wrought by the flood, hydrologists who study the state’s aquifers, or the state’s usable groundwater resources, have observed a faint silver lining.

SC Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer stand on stage speaking into a microphone, welcoming the crowd.
Haley Kellner/SC Public Radio

On Saturday, June 10, a bustling crowd of Beaufort County homeowners and their families assembled under a tent outside the Home Depot in Bluffton for the city’s second annual Storm Ready Expo. Hosted by the South Carolina Department of Insurance, the Expo was intended to encourage inclement weather preparedness at the beginning of hurricane season, which began June 1 and continues through the end of November.

Aerial view of the Charleston, S.C. area, Oct. 5, 2015.
U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will conduct a survey in June and July to assess the medical needs and emergency preparedness plans of coastal county residents. 

"The goal of this survey is to determine just how well-prepared people are for emergencies and to provide information to develop or enhance their individual emergency plans," said Jamie Blair, Deputy Director of the DHEC Office of Public Health Preparedness. "By knowing on the front end if residents in an area may require special attention we are more aptly prepared to serve."

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

Update

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.

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