South Carolina flood: Door-to-door searches, swamped roads

SEANNA ADCOX, Associated Press JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press

Another day of heavy rain drenched an already inundated South Carolina on Monday as rescue teams went door-to-door to check on people in swamped neighborhoods and authorities surveyed a statewide road system torn apart by historic flooding.

At least nine weather-related deaths in two states were blamed on the vast rainstorm, the latest coming when a sedan drove around a barricade and stalled in rushing waters. The driver drowned, but a woman who was riding in the car managed to climb on top of it and was rescued by a firefighter who waded into the water.

"She came out the window. How she got on top of the car and stayed there like she did with that water— there's a good Lord," Kershaw County Coroner David West said.

Heavy rain kept falling Monday around the Carolinas from the storm that began in the Southeast last week, part of an unprecedented system that dumped more than a foot of rain across South Carolina and drenched several other states.

Sunday was the wettest day in the history of South Carolina's capital city Columbia, according to the National Weather Service. The rainfall total at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport was 6.87 inches, the most rain that's ever fallen there in one day. One weather station near downtown recorded 17 inches in as many hours on Sunday.

"The flooding is unprecedented and historical," said Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist and director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, in an email to The Associated Press.

He said the unique double punch of the upper level low — aided by a "river" of tropical moisture in the atmosphere from Hurricane Joaquin spinning far out in the Atlantic — gave the monster rainstorm its punch.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has said the deluge is the kind of storm seen only once in 1,000 years.

On Monday, she said 381 roads and 127 bridges were closed across the state, and 1,000 law enforcement officers and 1,000 transportation department personnel were working to make them safe. All roads and bridges will have to be checked for structural integrity, which could take weeks or longer.

The governor said most people are heeding her plea to stay off the roads.

"I think they get it. All you have to do is look out the window and see the flooding. It doesn't take long for you to get in your car and realize you've got to turn back around," Haley said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

Three people were killed Sunday, including a transportation worker who died overseeing work near downtown Columbia, a woman who was swept away in her SUV and the man who drove around the barricade Sunday night in the Lugoff community northeast of Columbia, said the coroner said.

McArthur Woods, 56, drowned after his car was inundated. His passenger was rescued when someone who heard her screams called 911 around 10 p.m. The woman was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Authorities weren't able to recover Woods' body until Monday morning.

More than two dozen shelters were open, Haley said. Utility crews, meanwhile, were working to restore power to 30,000 customers, she said.

The deluge made for otherworldly scenes in Columbia as floodwaters nearly touched the stoplights Sunday at one downtown intersection. Rainwater cascaded like a waterfall over jagged asphalt where a road sheered apart, and many cars were submerged under flooded streets.

The flooding forced hundreds of weekend rescues and threatened the drinking water supply for Columbia, with officials warning some could be without potable water for days because of water main breaks. The capital city told all 375,000 of its water customers to boil water before drinking.

Elsewhere, nearly 75 miles of Interstate 95 — the main link from the Southeast U.S. to the Northeast — was closed.

Among those rescued were a woman and baby lifted to safety by helicopter, but efforts were far from over.

Columbia Police Chief William Holbrook issued a statement Monday saying search teams would check for any people still needing evacuation, and crews will mark the front doors of homes checked with a fluorescent orange X once searched.

Those in distress should call 911 and they will be taken out on military vehicles and bused to shelters, he said.

Many schools and colleges, including the University of South Carolina, canceled classes Monday and some businesses planned to stay shuttered. State climatologists have said the sun could peek out Tuesday.

One of the hardest hit areas in Columbia was near Gills Creek, where a weather station recorded more than 20 inches of rain — or nearly half the city's average yearly rainfall — from Friday through Sunday. Shaw Air Force Base, east of Columbia, has seen more than 19 inches of rain over the last few days.

Rescue crews used boats on Sunday to evacuate the family of Jeff Whalen, whose house backs up on Gills Creek.

"I got up around 6:15 and a neighbor called to tell us we should get out as soon as we can," Whalen said. "About that point it was about a foot below the door and when we left it was a foot in the house. It came quickly obviously."

The flooding also prompted acts of kindness in Columbia.

Rawlings LaMotte, 38, a residential real estate broker, said he and a friend got into a small motorboat and ended up ferrying several people to safety, including a man who had been out of town and found roads to his home blocked.

"Until you've experienced something like this, you have no idea how bad it really is," LaMotte said.

Tags:

Category: