Sally Wood and her husband were among the early arrivals on Wednesday’s opening day of the S.C. State Fair, snacking on french fries and enjoying a mostly sunny fall day.
The pair, who live near Beaver Dam in Columbia, went through tense days in the aftermath of the Oct. 4 flooding, worried that the dam would give way as a result of damage sustained in the storm.
They were fortunate the dam held; they had friends in Shandon who were not so lucky.
“They lost everything,” Wood said of her friends. “Right now they’re trying to decide where they’re going to move. They are not sure what their lives will be like after this.”
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The return of the fair, now in its 146th year, offered some kind of return to normalcy in the city of Columbia, where on Wednesday – 10 days after the devastating flood – a boil water advisory was finally lifted.
Some saw a trip to the fair as a great opportunity to take a break for some fun.
Kimberly and Toney Cray, who live on Garners Ferry Road in Lower Richland, were trying to do just that.
“The fair is a great upbeat thing,” said Kimberly Cray. “People look forward to it every year.”
The two also were feeling fortunate, having only lost water for three days after the floods.
“It could have been so much worse,” she said.
As for the fair, they both thought that there should have been additional days of $1 entry fee in light of recent events. But they’re just happy to have the event arrive as planned to help bring some normalcy back to the Midlands.
“It helps bring the community back together,” Toney Cray added. “Shows that we’re still strong and we’re not going to let the flood get us.”
But some who attended Wednesday’s fair opening are still dealing with the devastation and trying to figure out their future.
Josie James was living with her fiance in Charleston when the storm hit, destroying their residence. Her fiance has moved in with family in Bamberg, while she is here in Columbia staying with family.
James said it was her family’s idea to get her out of the house Wednesday to cheer her up – but to no avail.
“I think the fair should have waited,” she said. “I came to get out of the house, but when you lose everything you’ve got and all you can carry is a small suitcase, it’s not right. I’m hurt. I’m upset. I’m mad.”
While James said the fair does do good things for the area, it was hard for her to feel upbeat.
“I’m struggling and if it weren’t for my family buying me stuff at the fair I’d be lost,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. “I thank God for them.
“I was supposed to get married in January and my dress is gone,” she added. “How can you straighten things out when there’s a hole in your roof? There’s nothing there. God says after the storm there’s always a rainbow. I don’t see mine yet.”
Ricky Dumser, who was at the fair Wednesday, said he knows many people are hurting, noting some of his friends in Irmo who had water “up to the eaves of their house.”
But he said the fair’s arrival is a great lift for the area after the floods.
“It’s really a sign that we’ve come through it,” Dumser said. “Survived and conquered.”
The fair, which runs through Oct. 25, is donating net proceeds from this year’s $5 fairgrounds parking lot fee to help those affected by the floods.