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

This week, the One SC Fund opened their third round of applications for flood recovery projects assisting counties that were declared disaster areas by FEMA after the October floods. Grants are available to organizations across the country that want to help South Carolina communities recover.

Mosquito Season Post-Flooding in Richland County

Mar 9, 2016

The 2015 mosquito season should have been over by October, but the historic flooding caused a late season boom in the mosquito population.  Now entering the spring of 2016, standing water from the flood and recent rains are impacting the mosquito population in Richland County yet again.

The Gills Creek area in Columbia received over 20 inches of rain during the historic October 2015 flood. As residents continue the cleanup and re-building process, many are also battling another item of concern.

Richland County Council has many important decisions to make about Flood Recovery in the coming months. Laura Hunsberger talks with Richland County Recovery Chief about the Blue Ribbon Committee, which was formed to work with the County and to help represent the community.

Temporary location of Forest Lake Fabrics, near Columbia, SC, two doors down from the original location, which is under repair.
Tut Underwood/SC Public Radio

Many small businesses were heavily damaged by the catastrophic flood that hit Columbia in October 2015.  Working through a mass of forms from insurance companies, FEMA, the Small Business Administration and others, some are beginning to dig their way out toward recovery.

  Forest Lake Fabrics is one of these.  Founded 52 years ago in the old Forest Lake Shopping Center by the grandfather of present owner Michael Marsha, it has been in its current location on Forest Drive for more than two decades.

Four-year-old Ruby had to evacuate her home in Pine Glenn with her parents and sister. As her parents dealt with the process of rebuilding their home, Ruby began to deal with anxiety and grief over losing everything she knew. Her parents turned to Play Therapy for help.

lisafx/123RF Stock Photo

  For some survivors of the “thousand-year-flood” that drenched South Carolina in October 2015, loss or damage to homes, furnishings and vehicles were not all they suffered. Mental or emotional scars accompanied the loss of housing and possessions.

Photo courtesy of Genesis II and NHI Property Management

The residents of the Genesis II Apartment complex in the city of Mullins faced a tough situation when a sudden storm flooded their homes in early November. South Carolina Public Radio’s Laura Hunsberger explores what happened and what help is available for residents who experience flooding beyond the major October storm.

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.