South Carolina flood: Thousands without running water

2015-10-06 10:11
Water rushes out of a lake in Columbia after a small dam failed near the Overcreek Bridge. (Jay Reeves, AP)

Water rushes out of a lake in Columbia after a small dam failed near the Overcreek Bridge. (Jay Reeves, AP)

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Columbia - After a week of steady rain, thousands of South Carolina residents faced the prospect of going days without running water, and with waterlogged dams overflowing, bridges collapsing, hundreds of roads inundated and floodwaters rolling down to the coast, the southern state was anything but done with the disaster.

"This is a Hugo-level event," Major General Robert Livingston, head of the South Carolina National Guard, said on Monday, referring to the September 1989 hurricane that devastated Charleston. "We didn't see this level of erosion in Hugo. This water doesn't fool around."

Much-feared Hurricane Joaquin missed the East Coast, but fuelled what experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called a "fire hose" of tropical moisture that aimed directly at the state.

 A solid week of rainfall has killed at least 10 people in South Carolina and two in North Carolina, and sent about 1 000 to shelters. About 40 000 have been left without drinkable water.

One of latest to die was McArthur Woods, aged 56, who drove around a barricade and drowned Sunday night. His passenger managed to climb on top of the sedan, which stalled in the rushing water. A fire-fighter rescued her after someone heard her screams.

"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.

By Monday, the heaviest rains had moved into the mid-Atlantic states. Along the Jersey Shore, some beaches devastated by Superstorm Sandy three years ago lost most of their sand to the wind, rain and high surf.

Isolating 4 000 people

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley warned citizens to remain careful as a "wave" of water swelled downstream and dams had to be opened to prevent catastrophic failures above low-lying neighbourhoods near the capital.

Indeed, shortly after the governor's news conference, two dams in two separate towns east of downtown Columbia burst on Monday afternoon, forcing the evacuation of some neighbourhoods.

James Shirer, who lives in the area, saw one of the dams, in the town of Forest Acres, fail and 9ha lake drain in 10 to 15 minutes.

The 42cm of rain that fell at Gills Creek near downtown Columbia on Sunday made for one of the rainiest days recorded at a US weather station in more than 16 years.

An Associated Press reporter surveying the scene by helicopter saw the entire eastern side of the capital city awash in floodwater. Neither trailer parks nor upscale neighbourhoods were spared: One mansion's swimming pool was filled with a yellowish broth.

Some 550 roads and bridges remained closed on Monday, including nearly 120km of Interstate 95, the main link from the Southeast US. to the Northwest. The governor said they will need close inspection to ensure they're safe.

Some towns were entirely cut off. About 100km southeast of the capital, all four roads leading into the county seat of Manning were closed, isolating 4 000 people. Many smaller communities in Clarendon County are in a similar predicament, Sheriff Randy Garrett said.

"I'm the sheriff of a bunch of islands," Garrett said.

The National Guard's Blackhawk helicopters were the best, and only way to reach some places, said Livingston.

Safe water, however, was in short supply: In Columbia, fire-fighters used a half-dozen trucks and pumps to ferry hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital.

Read more on:    us  |  natural disasters

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