South Carolina devastated by storm

The Associated Press

South Carolina was expecting sunshine today, but it will take weeks for the state to return to normal.

Even as the rain tapered off, officials warned of the likelihood of new evacuations — such as one ordered Monday afternoon in one of two towns east of downtown Columbia where two dams were breached.

The governor warned communities downstream that a mass of water was working its way through waterways toward the low-lying coast, bringing the potential for more flooding and more displaced residents.

“This is not over. Just because the rain stops does not mean that we are out of the woods,” Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday.

South Carolina’s geography and poor infrastructure left several town and cities like islands after roads washed out and creeks topped bridges.

At least 11 weather-related deaths in South Carolina and two in North Carolina were blamed on the vast rainstorm, including those of six people who drowned in their cars in Columbia alone. A solid week of rainfall also sent about 1,000 people to shelters and left about 40,000 without drinkable water.

Much-feared Hurricane Joaquin missed the East Coast, but fueled what experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called a “fire hose” of tropical moisture that aimed directly at the state. By Monday, the heaviest rains had moved into the mid-Atlantic states.

The 16.6 inches of rain that fell at Gills Creek near downtown Columbia on Sunday made for one of the rainiest days recorded at a U.S. weather station in more than 16 years.

John Shelton of the U.S. Geological Survey says flooding can be a concern for any urban area, with an abundance of concrete covering soil that would otherwise act as a sponge for excessive rains.

“The fact is that we’re getting six months’ worth of rain in two days that’s falling in an urbanized area,” Shelton said. “This was kind of the perfect storm.”

Haley has called the kind of storm once-in-1,000-years event.

The state Department of Transportation said nearly 500 roads and bridges were still closed this morning. Many of those were in the Columbia area. A 90-mile stretch of Interstate 95 was still closed between Interstates 20 and 26 because of flooding and overall poor road conditions.

Officials warned residents not to try to drive through or around standing water and debris.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 1,048 of the 9,275 South Carolina bridges were structurally deficient before the storm.

South Carolina Electric and Gas said fewer than 1,000 residents were without power early Tuesday morning. Duke Energy said only a handful of its customers were still waiting for electricity to come back on.

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.

Officials brought in bottled water and portable restrooms for the 31,000 students at the University of South Carolina, and firefighters used a half-dozen trucks and pumps to ferry hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital.

The Associated Press

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