Worn Out by Florence, Carolinas Could Get More Record Flooding

"It's getting a little frustrating, but you have to deal with it and roll with the punches," said one woman in a shelter

As rivers swollen to record levels started to recede Thursday in North Carolina, officials tried to head off potential environmental disasters and prepared for more record flooding downstream in South Carolina.

Roads were still clogged with people trying to make it back to where the floods had creeped back, leaving silty mud on walls and floors. Crews closed some bridges and reopened others as trillions of gallons of water continued its long, meandering journey to the Atlantic Ocean.

Potential environmental problems remained. Duke Energy issued a high-level emergency alert after floodwaters from the Cape Fear River overtopped an earthen dike and inundated a large lake at a closed power plant near Wilmington, North Carolina. The utility said it did not think any coal ash was at risk.

U.S. & World

Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.

Panel Vote Sends Trump Impeachment Charges to Full House

China and US Reach Phase One Trade Deal

State-owned utility Santee Cooper in South Carolina is placing an inflatable dam around a coal ash pond near Conway, saying the extra 2.5 feet (76 centimeters) should be enough to keep floodwaters out. Officials warned human, hog and other animal waste were mixing in with floodwaters in the Carolinas.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster estimated damage from the flood in his state at $1.2 billion in a letter that says the flooding will be the worst disaster in the state's modern history. McMaster asked Congressional leaders to hurry federal aid. North Carolina's governor hasn't given an estimate of damage to his state.

Among the breakdowns included in McMaster's letter is an estimated $125 million hit to South Carolina's agriculture industry. The governor noted that some of the estimates were based on damage resulting from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

McMaster requested federal disaster-recovery funds be made available for 23 of South Carolina's 46 counties.

He wrote the damage from Florence in the northeastern area of the state "will be catastrophic, surpassing anything recorded in modern history."

Florence is blamed for at least 41 deaths in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Well over half of those killed were in vehicles.

In North Carolina, a familiar story was unfolding as many places that flooded in Hurricane Matthew in 2016 were once again inundated.

Pastor Floyd Benfield walked inside his Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Spring Lake now that the Little River has retreated.

Two years ago, flooding ruined the baseboards and carpet. This year, the water broke the windows, leaving the pews a jumbled mess and soaked Bibles and hymn books on the floor.

"This sanctuary was built in 1909, and it never flooded until Hurricane Matthew," Benfield said.

In Wilmington, things kept creeping back closer to normal in the state's largest coastal city. Officials announced the end of a curfew and the resumption of regular trash pickup.

But they said access to the city of 120,000 was still limited and asked people who evacuated to wait a few more days. They also warned people to not get caught off guard as rivers that briefly receded were periodically rising back.

In South Carolina, the flood was far from over. The water appeared to stop rising in Nichols, but the town of 360 was almost entirely submerged for the second time in three years.

Jodi Pajaro owned one of the few houses in Nichols that wasn't flooded in 2016 by the Little Pee Dee and the Lumber Rivers which flow past either side of the town.

She evacuated like the rest of the residents and tenses up each time her cellphone dings. It is frequently pictures from friends who are rescuers riding boats in town. In the last one she saw, the water was maybe an inch or two (2.5 to 5 centimeters) from her front door.

"It doesn't look good. I am heartbroken," she wrote in a text.

The flood has been giving so much warning to Horry County, South Carolina, that officials published a detailed map of places that flooded in 2016 and warned those same places were going underwater again.

One man had time to build a 6-foot (1.8-meter) high dirt berm around his house. Rental trucks and flatbeds whisked furniture and valuables out of homes that were still dry in Conway.

The Waccamaw River has started its slow rise in the city of 23,000, and forecasters expect it to swell more than 3 feet (0.90 meters) above the previous record crest by Tuesday while still rising. Some areas could stay underwater for weeks, forecasters warned.

All that water from Nichols and Conway is heading toward Georgetown County, where five different rivers dump into the Atlantic Ocean. Officials warned more than 10 percent of the county's 61,000 residents might have to evacuate sometime next week, but called that a worst-case scenario and they couldn't give any specific forecast.

Authorities planned to start handing out 15,000 sandbags Friday.

"We're at the end of the line of all waters to come down," said Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway, as he warned the area may see a flood like it has never seen before.

Duke Energy activated a high-level emergency alert at a retired coal-fired power plant in North Carolina as floodwaters from the nearby Cape Fear River overtopped an earthen dike at the facility and inundated a large lake, raising concerns of a potential breach.

Company employees notified state regulators overnight that the 1,100-acre (445-hectare) lake at the L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington was at the highest level of alert under its emergency action plan.

The dam containing Sutton Lake appeared stable and Duke officials were monitoring it with helicopters and drones, Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Thursday, adding that it was "an evolving situation."

A copy of that plan reviewed by The Associated Press defines an Emergency Level 1 event as: "Urgent! Dam failure is imminent or in progress."

Associated Press photographer Chuck Burton and AP writers Skip Foreman, Alex Derosier and Jay Reeves contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us