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

Some houses in Gadsden were damaged beyond repair and are being demolished.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

[Updated 03-17-16]

Problems still linger for residents in many of the areas hit hard by October’s “thousand year flood” in South Carolina. Richland County, located in the Midlands of the state, has held a series of community input meetings in locations such as Gadsden, Eastover and the capital city of Columbia, to gather information on what needs still exist.

FEMA Disaster Assistance Interview

  The United Way maintains a one-stop phone number, 211, to help flood survivors who still have unmet needs to connect with a list of local volunteer organizations. As FEMA disaster recovery centers have closed, the local groups remain to permanently help people with relief from any emergency.

  The three remaining disaster recovery centers in South Carolina will close Friday, Jan. 29, at 6 p.m.:

  • Richland County Library Southeast, 7421 Garners Ferry Road, Columbia
  • Williamsburg Recreation Center, 2084 Thurgood Marshall Highway, Kingstree
  • Central Carolina Technical College, 853 Broad St., Sumter

Many services available at disaster recovery centers are also available by calling the FEMA helpline. 

Debris from homes damaged in the October 2015 floods in South Carolina.
SC Public Radio

Dr. Susan Cutter knows about disasters.

  She is director of the University of South Carolina’s Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute, and she has studied disaster preparedness, response. She has also headed teams that were on the ground after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 and after hurricane Katrina flooded much of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

The October 2015 floods in South Carolina offered her and her team the unique chance to be part of a disaster as it unfolded.

In the wake of the historical flood, community outreach programs are helping families get back on their feet.  The Pine Glen subdivision was hit hard by rising rain water and residents are worried they may not be able to move back in.

University of SC students clean up flood debris from Gills Creek, the location of some of the Midlands' worst flooding.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Just because some of South Carolina’s flood-ravaged roads and bridges have been re-opened and repairs to homes and businesses are in progress does not mean that little remains to be done.  A group of University of South Carolina students tackled one unmet need at Columbia’s Gills Creek the weekend prior to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

USGS water level gauge at the Gills Creek in Columbia, SC.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Of the many agencies that rushed to help victims of October’s floods, one remains largely unknown.  It’s the U.S. Geological Survey, which maintains a network of satellite-connected guages to measure the elevation of rivers and creeks statewide.   This information and more is shared with numerous agencies, and is vital to the National Weather Service, which uses it to make accurate predictions and generate flood warnings and watches when needed. 

File Photo

    As more people receive flood relief from FEMA and the Small Business Administration and few people use the agencies’ disaster recovery centers, the centers are closing around the state. This doesn’t mean that help is going away, however. FEMA spokesman Jim Homstad tells us that as recovery centers close, the task of giving assistance will be taken over by more local and community groups. Flood survivors will still have access to FEMA’s helpline, however.

The Richland County Disaster Recovery Center at the Richland Library, Main Branch, Closes Jan. 13, 2016
SC Public Radio

  As flood victims get their lives back to a semblance of normalcy and no longer utilize FEMA’s disaster recovery centers, they will close as they are no longer needed.  The Richland County Library location of the recovery center on Assembly St. in downtown Columbia will close at 6 p.m. Wednesday, January 13, 2016.  Two other centers in Richland County, and nine others around the state, will remain open until they are no longer needed.

For those registered with FEMA, help and information can still be found at the following:

File Photo

    Two disaster recovery centers in Richland County will close Friday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m.:

  • Richland County Library Eastover, 608 Main St. in Eastover
  • Temple of Faith Church, 2850 Congaree Road, Gadsden

Many services available at disaster recovery centers are also available by calling the FEMA helpline. Survivors of Oct. 1-23 storms and flooding in Richland County can get help by calling 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585; those who use 711/VRS can call 800-621-3362. Lines are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.

Lake Murray dam's floodgates were opened in October 2015 for the first time since 1969.
FILE: NWS Columbia/Ebben Aley

  According to postings on its Facebook page, South Carolina Electric &Gas(SCE&G) partially opened one spill gate at 4 a.m. today to address high inflows into Lake Murray, near Columbia, SC, from upstream reservoirs and tributaries. At that time, the utility company announced that it would keep the gate open and make adjustments throughout the day as needed.

At 11:30, SCE&G posted a notice that it had begun incrementally closing the spill gate, due to slowing inflows into the Lake, reducing outflows from the Saluda Hydro Facility. The power company's Facebook page announced that the spill gate would remain partially open as we continue to monitor conditions. Adjustments will be made throughout the day as needed. Updates will be provided on SCE&G's social media channels, through local media and to local law enforcement officials.

Thursday, December 17, the USC Darla Moore School of Business held their annual Economic Outlook Conference. Joseph Von Nessen Ph.D. presented the 2016 South Carolina Economic Outlook.  While the Thousand-Year flood caused major damage in SC, the recovery efforts are expected to cause a temporary stimulus in 2016.

SBA Disaster Loan interview. (File Photo)

       Tut Underwood reports that SBA loans are available through January 1, 2016,to small businesses coping with damage from South Carolina's record flooding.

Additional Information:

To register with FEMA online, to be considered for all forms of disaster assistance:  To register by mobile device:

FEMA toll-free helpline: 800-621-3362.  Those who use 711- Relay or Video Relay Services should call 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585)

After the flood: Forest Lake Gardens in Forest Acres, near Columbia, SC, in December, 2015.
Forest Lake Garden Center

  Local farmers have been selling to the Forest Lake area for three decades or more. But flood damage and other circumstances may cause the last vendor in the area to close up shop.

    At the Forest Lake Gardens in Columbia, employees are busy trimming the extra branches from Christmas trees for customers. People come here year round for plants and peanuts, and this time of year, for fresh cut Christmas trees. When the historic flood hit the state in October, the Garden Center was hit hard.

Debris outside resident Mike Parker’s home in the Gills Creek neighborhood of Columbia, SC.
Linda O'Bryon/SC Public Radio

Many in Columbia braced for what was later called the storm of the century, but in the Gills Creek neighborhood, fast action saved lives.  Like many of their neighbors in the Gills Creek area, the damage was bad enough that Mike Parker and his family won’t be able to rebuild.

Initial repair efforts at the Columbia Canal required the SC National Guard to lift giant sandbags into the breach.
SC Public Radio

When the October flood hit, two hospitals in downtown Columbia lost water pressure. The situation was critical as officials worked to restore water to the facilities.

   While some survivors of October’s floods may have received a letter from FEMA saying they are ineligible for disaster assistance, FEMA spokesman Carl Henderson urges these people not to give up. Visit your nearest Disaster Recovery Center and speak with a counselor. It may be that all the I’s were not dotted, or the T’s crossed, and you may become eligible with the proper backup paperwork and properly completed forms.

DOT workers repairing bridge approach damaged by October floods.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Progress has been surprisingly rapid on road and bridge re-openings since the October floods in South Carolina. SC Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Poore says of 541 roads and bridges that were closed statewide on Oct. 5, only 80 remain to be opened.

Poore says that the agency's efforts to put workers on the ground while the rains were still coming down helped give it a head start on recovery. "I think we were as prepared as we could be, as an agency, and I think that paid off."

In October of 2015, Columbia's Four Paws Animal Clinic was underwater when the October flood hit.  There were no pets in the clinic when the building flooded.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

When the historic floods hit the Midlands in October, many small businesses, like many homes, were inundated. Ceiling-high waters in low-lying areas would seem to ruin the businesses for good. But the owners are fighting back.

SBA Disaster Loan interview. (File Photo)

    Even if a survivor of the recent floods in South Carolina doesn’t plan to accept a loan from the Small Business Association, he or she is encouraged to apply, because the application may make them eligible for other assistance.  Homeowners, renters, small businesses and even nonprofits may benefit from loans for disaster-related damage.

Gov. Nikki Haley in press conference at the SC Emergency Management Division. (File Photo)

    It's been almost two weeks since the first rainfall from this month's torrential storm hit the state. And, with the exception residents and businesses who suffered substantial losses, the state seems to be back on it's feet. All major highways are open, schools have re-opened, only a few hundred people remain in the seven shelters that are still open, and Columbia's water problems have been corrected.

On Wednesday, Governor Nikki Haley thanked the citizens of the state for getting through it, saying "We know that we are coming to brighter days."

Clean-up is underway but volunteers are still needed.
SC Public Radio

    A week after the storm that caused massive flooding in our state, South Carolinians are turning toward recovery and restoration. Thousands of National Guard troops are at work, and charitable organizations have donated hundreds of thousands of meals to people in need. Hundreds have been displaced by the disaster, and help is still needed across the state. 

Gov. Nikki Haley in press conference at the SC Emergency Management Division. (File Photo)

   Governor Nikki Haley says that, in the wake of historic flooding, the state is now moving " from a massive response situation to a massive recovery situation."

Anyone working in working in enclosed spaces where mold may have taken hold should were masks as well as gloves.
SC Public Radio/File Photo

  Governor Haley says the shelters do not currently need donations or volunteers. Right now, volunteer help is needed cleaning up debris in recovering neighborhoods. DHEC Director Catherine Heigel says volunteers should wear work gloves and boots and get a tetanus shot if needed. She says that if you are not sure whether or not you have gotten one in the past ten years, it is safe to go ahead and get a booster. On Sunday, DHEC plans to open localized clinics in the Midlands to assist volunteers, and local health clinics can also provide shots. For more information, visit