Flooding from rising rivers and potential dam failures topped S.C. officials’ concerns Monday, two days after Hurricane Matthew churned past the S.C. coast.
No additional deaths were reported, leaving the storm’s toll at three.
Meanwhile, more than 400 roads and bridges remained closed, and more than 400,000 South Carolinians remained without power.
By midday Monday, authorities had rescued 162 people from flood waters in the state’s Pee Dee region, where six dams had failed.
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S.C. officials said they were “extremely concerned” about flooding along the Little Pee Dee, Lumber and Waccamaw rivers. They also were watching the Black River.
“The flooding from the rivers has been unfortunate, and what we are seeing is just a lot of damage,” said S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who took an aerial tour of the area Monday morning. “Most first floors are gone if not homes altogether. We saw cars lost, impassable roads.”
Haley asked President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration that would free up federal money to help pay for recovery.
S.C. regulators had concerns about 250 dams across the state and had inspected 161 by midday on Monday.
Of the seven dams that have failed, six were in Dillon, Darlington, Clarenton or Horry counties, some of the areas worst hit by the weekend’s storm. A seventh breached dam was at Baywater Drive in Lexington County, according to Catherine Heigel, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Officials were watching two other “significant hazard” Pee Dee dams for potential failures, she said.
Late Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey said the Lumber River was at higher than 22 feet, the Waccamaw at nearly 16 feet and the Little Pee Dee at higher than 15 feet. Each of those figures indicates “major” flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
All three rivers are expected to stay at major flood stages through this week.
The Little Pee Dee is not expected to crest for days, and it could be two weeks before the Waccamaw crests, according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources director Alvin Taylor.
“It’s very difficult when you’re looking at those rivers. Most of the models work well with rainfall, but when you have dam breaches upstream, the models are very difficult to follow,” Taylor said. “That’s why we have eyes on the ground day and night watching those rivers.”
Haley said Monday the state had asked the president for a disaster declaration that would provide recovery money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Haley’s request covered 13 counties. More could be added.
Obama signed disaster declarations Sunday for Florida and Georgia but by late Monday had not signed a declaration for the Palmetto State.
A presidential disaster declaration for 35 S.C. counties after last fall’s historic flooding paved the way for FEMA to provide more than $164 million to more than 28,000 survivors.
It also allowed FEMA to subsidize government agencies’ disaster recovery projects, needed after the flooding knocked out roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
With FEMA paying for as much as 75 percent of each project – from debris removal to repairing roads and bridges – the state and 33 of its counties received nearly $75 million in federal “public assistance” dollars.
As of Monday evening, 407 S.C. roads and 27 bridges remained closed because of storm debris or flooding.
More than 1,500 state workers had been dispatched to clear the remaining roads, most of which were secondary or low-traffic routes, S.C. Department of Transportation chief Christy Hall said.
“That’s our focus now, to push in those areas,” Hall said.
More than 406,715 S.C. customers were without power late Monday, down from more than 866,000 on Saturday night.
Sustained, high winds inland and torrential rainfall from the storm chewed through power poles and crippled transmission stations, triggering massive power failures, according to utilities in the state.
Some utilities warned customers it could be Sunday before all power is restored, though most electricity should return much sooner.
Nearly 85,360 SCE&G customers remained without power on Monday afternoon. Nearly 2,000 of those were in the Columbia area.
SCE&G should restore power Tuesday to all Midlands customers, according to Keller Kissam, the utility’s retail operations vice president.
Lowcountry SCE&G customers should have power restored by the end of the week, he said. However, the lights could be out in parts of Beaufort County until early next week.
“We are moving very well with utilities,” Haley said. “They are really on top of this, moving as fast as they can, and will continue to do so.”
The state still had 2,184 evacuees staying in more than 42 shelters Monday morning, with plans to consolidate some locations, Haley said.
S.C. officials Monday asked for donations to the One S.C. Fund, originally created to help survivors rebuild from the 2015 flooding. That fund distributed $2 million in grants to nonprofits working on flood recovery projects, helping more than 1,500 families return home.
Monetary donations address needs better than donated supplies, which are costly to warehouse and distribute, said Marcia Adams, director of the S.C. Department of Administration.
407 road closures
27 bridge closures
406,715 power outages remaining
250 dams that state officials said they were concerned bout
7 confirmed dam failures
31 school districts closed; others will open Tuesday on a delayed schedule