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

Greenville County Lets The Floodplains Flood

Oct 20, 2016
Cooper McKim

The light brown wooden wall cabinets, drawers, stove and oven in the kitchen at the Greenville County building are hand-me-downs. The kitchen supplies came from homes the county bought and then demolished.

“If we bought a house and there is something in there that we paid for that can be used and recycled then let's do it.” Assistant County Administrator Paula Gucker said. “Because then I don't have to go out and buy cabinets or countertops.”

Flood Evacuee Journeys Home to Feed Cats

Oct 17, 2016
A tree in Dan Stachowiak's Backyard
Provided by Dan Stachowiak

Hurricane Matthew has come and gone, but major threats still remain. Waterways in North and South Carolina are quickly rising due to the Hurricane's torrential rains.  North Carolina has already seen devastating effects and now, South Carolina is starting to feel the impact. Five counties are seeing major flooding, with many communities encouraging their residents to evacuate. Dan Stachowiak is an evacuee from Conway. Cooper McKim follows Stachowiak on his journey through floodwaters to feed his cats.

Members of the Forest Acres Community gather at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Columbia for an Interfaith Service of Remembrance.
Laura Hunsberger

On the anniversary of last October's historic floods, the sanctuary of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church was full of people gathered for an interfaith service of remembrance. Leaders from 10 churches and synagogues took part, offering prayers, songs, and words of encouragement. The event honored First Responders from Forest Acres, Richland County, and the City of Columbia, along with community members touched by the disaster. South Carolina Public Radio’s Laura Hunsberger has the story.

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One SC Fund Expands to Help Hurricane Matthew Victims

Oct 13, 2016
Thelisha Eaddy / SC Public Radio

The One SC Fund was created after the October 2015 rain event and flood and has distributed $2 million dollars to nonprofits to help residents rebuild and recovery from that historic event. Governor Haley said the fund will now expand to help victims of Hurricane Matthew.

“What we’ve found very, very helpful was we started the One SC Fund last year, and what that did was allowed neighbors to help neighbors, businesses who wanted to contribute to the state to help those in need,” Haley said.

S.C. Residents Begin Clean Up In Hurricane Flooded Areas

Oct 12, 2016

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Flooding in Forest Acres, near Columbia, SC, on Oct 4, 2015.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

People and the press have referred to last year’s historic flood as a “thousand year” flood, as if an event of this size wouldn’t happen for another millennium.  Not so, say John Shelton of the U.S. Geological Survey and state climatologist Hope Mizzell.   Surprisingly, perhaps, each year the odds of a similar flood happening, though remote, are exactly the same.  Mizzell says the “thousand year” designation, however, does have a use, as a criterion for designing certain structures which must be built to withstand great and unlikely stresses. 

Residents Begin Cleanup After Hurricane Matthew

Oct 10, 2016
Streets in downtown Charleston near the Battery were flooded and strewn with debris after Hurricane Matthew.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

I trudged through knee high murky brown water to get to Amy Knoch house in Pepperhill a neighborhood in North Charleston, about 20 miles inland.

“My house had about 14 and change inches of water in it,” She said.

Knoch was standing, staring at her home in shock. Almost exactly one year after her house was destroyed by flooding the first time.

Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio

Rafting Creek is a quiet stream that winds behind a cemetery, under a road, then through the woods - it's idyllic. But when rain began last year during the historic flood, the Sumter waterway started to fill up. As the storm continued, the area began to flood, sweeping diagonally over the cemetery, road, and woods themselves. The ground under the cemetery became saturated; the pressure of it caused the caskets to pop out of graves. Three thousand-pound vaults with coffins inside were carried several hundred feet into the woods across the road.

Hundreds of volunteers with the nonprofit Eight Days of Hope were expected in Williamsburg and Georgetown Counties Saturday. The group was scheduled to start rebuilding 150 homes damaged in last year’s flood. President Stephen Tybor is now asking some of those volunteers to delay their arrival.

"We ask those volunteers that are going to come in tomorrow on Saturday, to delay that arrival to Sunday Afternoon."

Tybor said teams that are already in the area will temporarily shift their focus to post-storm cleanup.

Only days after the flood, Columbia's Gills Creek was approaching normal level, but its rage left its marks, both on the vegetation pictured here, and on its many victims.
Tut Underwood/ SC Public Radio

Rain can be a painful reminder to some people of the great losses suffered a year ago in South Carolina’s historic floods.  According to USC School of Social Work Assistant Professor Patrice Penney, the anniversary of a traumatic event such as the floods can cause fear, anxiety and other symptoms in survivors. And psychologist Richard Kagan tells us that these renewed feelings at the anniversary are perfectly normal behavior, but  William Wells of the S.C. Dept.

"Resumption," A Musical Interpretation of the Flood

Oct 3, 2016
Recording "Resumption" at South Carolina Public Radio.
AT Shire/SC Public Radio

Resumption is a violin, drums, and piano composition inspired by the flood in South Carolina last year. The trio attempts to capture the musical personality of the storm from early rain to recovery using the diverse expression of our instruments.

DNR: White Shrimp Season As High As Predicted

Sep 30, 2016
Alexandra Olgin

The spring 2016 white roe shrimp season in South Carolina was the best in 37 years. The state natural resources department reports catches of shrimp at testing sites in August were more 200 percent higher than the decade average.

In April, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources marine scientist Steve Arnott attributed the projected successful season to weather conditions. He said the influx of freshwater from 2015 flooding moved many of the crustaceans out of the marshes and into the waters where the shrimp boats are.

Low Prices Make Flood Recovery Tough For Farmers

Sep 30, 2016
Alexandra Olgin

Farmer Jamie Burgess has a lot riding on this harvest.

“Corn so far is doing good,” he said from the drivers seat of his combine. “If we can just get a good price we’ll be all right.”  

Last year, most of Burgess’ crops were drowned by record rainfall. The South Carolina agriculture department estimates farmers lost 75 percent of the money they were expecting to make off of crops in 2015.  

Alexandra Olgin

The future of a South Carolina hospital damaged by water a year ago is uncertain. The Williamsburg Regional Hospital in Kingstree was damaged by heavy rains last October and it  is still waiting to hear if it will get funding to repair or build a new facility.

Louise Welch-Williams (center), the Regional CEO for the Red Cross in South Carolina at work in Southern Louisiana. Welch-Williams was one of more than 50 Red Crossers who travelled to Louisiana to help after the August floods.
Courtesy of the American Red Cross

    In August, the state of Louisiana experienced catastrophic flooding in one of the worst natural disasters since Hurricane Sandy. Residents of South Carolina could certainly relate to the images of houses under water and people being rescued by boat, as South Carolina is still recovering from last fall’s historic floods. Having gone through something similar, many people in the state want to help in some way.

  In 2015, Tomeka Frazier and her young son were living with her former foster mother and searching for affordable housing of their own. Then the October flood came, and housing became intensely competitive as displaced flood victims searched for a place to stay. On top of losing most of their belongings in the flood, the Fraziers were forced to leave the city of Columbia to find somewhere to live. Tomeka describes her fight to find stability for her and her son after the flood as a disabled single parent.

Elevated House
Thelisha Eaddy / SC Public Radio

September 20 was the deadline for counties to submit their proposed flood recovery action plans to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). With plans submitted, Lexington County anticipates its plan to be approved. The 55-page plan calls for 61.2% of its $16.332 million dollars of Community Development Block Grant- Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Funds on home buy-outs.

Margaret and Harry Plexico spent months trying to clean up and salvage their flooded home before decided to start over elsewhere.
Ryan Plexico

Update: Due to Hurricane Matthew, the SC Flood Strong 5K has been rescheduled for December 10, 2016.

Ryan Plexico used to stop by his parents’ home every day to go for a run in their neighborhood. When his parents lost their home in the October floods, Ryan found a way to give back through running.

Roads Still Closed Nearly A Year After Dams Failed

Sep 21, 2016
Alexandra Olgin

Fragments of black asphalt lay in the bottom of a collapsed two-lane road in Calhoun County. Part of Church Camp Road buckled after the dam underneath it failed during heavy rains last October. It has been closed since, which state Representative Russell Ott says is too long.

“In a years’ time a decision can be made. It’s a tough decision to have to make and I don’t envy that decision but at the same time it is still one that has to be made,” he said.

 

How Four Individuals Became 'Water Heroes'

Sep 19, 2016
The view just outside of the Columbia Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant during October's flood.
David Wiman

South Carolina's largest wastewater treatment plant had spent a week preparing for a hurricane in early October last year. The rain started, winds were blowing, but instead of a hurricane, South Carolina got a flood -- the worst it's seen in years. Cooper McKim reports how four individuals stayed behind to keep the plant running.

Maegan Latham assists with community cleanup efforts after Columbia was flooded last October. Here, she takes a wooden cross to her neighbors houses to be signed.
Courtesy Julie Latham

  Last October, the Latham family’s home was devastatingly damaged by Columbia’s massive flood. During several long months of repair, Davis and Maegan Latham struggled to keep up with the demands of high school while living in “less than ideal” circumstances, displaced from their home at an inconvenient distance. In the process, the two siblings learned lessons about resilience and carrying on in the midst of unfortunate events.

Harmony School teacher Jennifer Mancke admires the mural made by student in the flood-damaged preschool building that will require about $400,000 to repair.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

At Harmony School, a private school in the Columbia suburb of Forest Acres, children learn in a couple of portable classrooms that were pressed into service after last October’s historic flood.  The move was required because the flood rendered the school’s largest building, its preschool, unusable.  Just 2 to 4 inches from the overflow of adjacent Gills Creek was all it took to cause $400,000 worth of damage.  Director Debbie Holmes and teacher Jennifer Mancke talk about the event and the school’s efforts to raise money for its repair.  Even the school’s students are pitching in.    

National Flood Insurance Program Affordability

Sep 9, 2016
Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Credit Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann

The National Flood Insurance Program has a problem.

More than 5 million people, mainly in coastal states, have policies through it, but the federal program is in more than $23 billion in debt. Experts feel reforms are needed as the 2017 renewal approaches. One of those people is Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Management and Decision Process Center. He was part of a study last year focused on Charleston, South Carolina.

Lawmakers Consider New Dam Safety Regulations

Sep 9, 2016
South Carolina House Chamber
Russ McKinney/SC Public Radio

Nearly one year after the October 2015 flood where breached dams caused destruction, regulators are trying to codify new rules for the structures.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control reports 52 dams were breached during the historic flooding last fall. The agency is proposing that dam owners update contact information and emergency plans yearly and that future regulation cover smaller dams. The agency regulates more than 2,300 dams statewide. DHEC is also suggesting that dams that pose greater risk are inspected more frequently.

Volunteers work on Flood-damaged house
Thelisha Eaddy / SC Public Radio

Volunteers and charitable organizations are essential to long-term disaster recovery. They gut houses, hang dry wall, fix roofs, remove mold along with a plethora of other needed services. But housing out-of-state volunteers for weeks or months at a time can be challenging. Thelisha Eaddy talks with United Way of Midlands Disaster Recovery Manager Michael Hagins, about how, 11 months after October’s flood, housing is an issue for both flood survivors and the volunteers who want to help them.

State Director of the Humane Society Kim Kelly with a member of their Animal Rescue Team and one of the dogs relocated from Charleston Animal Society before flooding began,
Courtesy of Kim Kelly

Last October, South Carolina State Director of the Human Society Kim Kelly worked with her organization on a state and national level to evacuate animal shelters likely to flood, relocating nearly 300 animals. However, at the same time, Kelly's home in Johns Island was seriously flooded, and she and her family were forced to evacuate their own home as well.

Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio
Vince Kolb-Lugo/SC Public Radio

In West Columbia, Lake Murray is the source of water for 60,000 nearby residents. Before anyone can turn on their sink though, the water has to be treated for taste, cleaning, and safety. This past July, the treatment process ran into a problem: there was a contaminant present.  It's called haloacetic acid, a carcinogenic, and it was above the legal limit of what the plant should be sending out to citizens. Cooper McKim has the story.

    

A Rare Story About How the Flood Actually Did Some Good

Aug 31, 2016
Thelisha Eaddy / SC Public Radio

After October's flood, there was a decrease in attendance at Congaree National Park. The park's Chief Interpreter Scott Teodorski said the timing of the flood, and not necessarily it's size, can explain the decrease.

But flooding is not a rare occurrence at Congaree National Park. Waters from the adjacent Congaree and Wateree rivers periodically sweep through the park’s floodplain. Park officials say this is a good thing.

Elizabeth Webb and Louise Cruea both experienced two flood evacuations with their respective children, pictured here.
Elizabeth Webb

        Elizabeth Webb and Louise Cruea survived South Carolina's flood last October before surviving a second massive flood in West Virginia this summer. Their children, who were with them in both evacuations, have struggled with trauma from these disasters, like so many of the elementary-age children that Elizabeth and Louise teach.

More Private Physicians Connecting With Telehealth

Aug 24, 2016
Alexandra Olgin

There aren’t many doctors left in Bamberg. Those that remain are clustered around the old hospital. Since it closed four years ago, patients have had fewer options for care. Which means the doctors who stayed, like Danette McAlhaney are busy.

“There is seldom a time here when we are slow,” she said. ”We just stay busy all the time.”

When McAlhaney isn’t treating people herself, they are still coming to her office to have appointments with other doctors, who are hours away, through a television screen.  

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