COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina was expecting sunshine Tuesday after days of inundation, but it will still take weeks for the state to return to normal after being pummeled by a historic rainstorm.
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 spending on infrastructure left several town and cities like islands after roads washed out and creeks topped bridges.
One of those cut-off communities was Manning, the county seat of Clarendon County, about 60 miles southeast of Columbia.
“I fear the worst is to come. We have a power substation under water. No telling when that thing gets fixed,” Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said Monday.
Water distribution remained a key problem for Columbia, with as many as 40,000 homes lacking water service. The rest of the city’s 375,000 water customers have been told to boil the water for at least one minute before using it for drinking or cooking.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said Tuesday that the order is likely to be in effect for “quite some time.” The city was planning to open more water distribution centers.
Meanwhile, storm water continuing to drain through the area remained a concern.
“We still have some infrastructure issues. We still have water coming down from the Upstate,” Benjamin said.
On Monday, officials brought bottled water and portable restrooms for 31,000 students at the University of South Carolina, and firefighters used trucks and pumps to ferry hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital.
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 to shelters.
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, but not before making history in South Carolina.
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.
But the multitude of waterways in Columbia also makes the city a prime target, as rainwater flowing toward a creek or river gets waylaid on roadways.
“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.”
The governor has said the deluge is the kind of storm seen only once in 1,000 years.
The state Department of Transportation said nearly 500 roads and bridges were still closed Tuesday morning. Many of those were in the Columbia area. A 90-mile stretch of Interstate 95 was still closed between Interstates 20 and 26 due to flooding and overall poor road conditions.
Officials warned residents not to try to drive through or around standing water and debris.
Power had been restored to most of the nearly 30,000 customers who were without electricity at the storm’s peak.
In another downstream area, Lake City, the flooding left a brown four-door sedan bobbing with its hood angled down at the road leading to Lake City High School, the site of a shelter that housed more than 100 people Monday. Lisa Singletary, 34, trudged past the car through water about 4 feet deep to reach the shelter after her sister’s apartment flooded.
Singletary said she pushed through the grimy water on Sunday with her sister and their six children, ages 1-18. She and her sister then returned for everything they could carry.
“We had to really wade in the water. … We had to hold the kids up from really getting wet and everything,” said Singletary, who was visiting for the weekend from nearby Johnsonville.
The two women filled plastic trash bags with “toothpaste, toothbrush, wash cloths, towels, blankets, pillows, clothes, socks, shoes,” Singletary said. “We brought everything that we could have brought.”
Back in the Columbia area, the latest evacuation rattled residents who thought the worst had passed after a weekend of hundreds of water rescues.
James Shirer saw the dam along Rockyford Lake in the town of Forest Acres fail Monday, causing the 22-acre lake to drain in 10 to 15 minutes.
“It just poured out,” Shirer said.
Speaking of the rains, he said, “They’ve wrecked the dams; they’ve ruined all of the bridges.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Bruce Smith in Charleston, South Carolina; Mitch Weiss in Greenville, South Carolina; Susanne M. Schafer in Columbia; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; Meg Kinnard in Blythewood, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C.; and Jay Reeves in Columbia.
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