A second punch from Hurricane Matthew on Tuesday meant worsening floods and more rescues in the Pee Dee, while folks in South Carolina’s Lowcountry are still waiting for officials to say it’s safe for them to return home.
The deluge dumped over the weekend on North Carolina’s border areas is making its way down major rivers that meander to the sea in South Carolina – largely the Little Pee Dee, Lumber and Waccamaw rivers.
“It’s going to be very Floyd-like,” said Capt. Robert McCullough, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Hurricane Floyd was the 1999 storm that caused widespread flooding in both states. In Conway, the Waccamaw came close to record levels, which took days to drain and delayed the recovery.
In the town of Nichols, which was swamped this week by overflows from the Lumber and the Little Pee Dee rivers, Marion County administrator Tim Harper said 172 people still are in shelters at two schools, and some roads and bridges are closed.
Some 150 people who fled to Town Hall, the highest ground they could find, were rescued Monday.
An additional 40 people and 40 animals living along the banks of the Little Pee Dee downstream of Nichols were saved on Tuesday, McCullough said.
Teams of game wardens in boats and four-wheel-drive vehicles, directed from overhead by a State Law Enforcement Division helicopter, plucked people from the communities of Red Bluff, Fork Retch, Davis Landing, Galivants Ferry and Johnson Lake, McCullough said.
“We’re fairly confident that we’ve gotten all the people, at least notified and/or evacuated,” McCollough said late Tuesday afternoon of a stretch of the Little Pee Dee that reaches to the county line with Williamsburg County. “I know we rescued a couple of horses and some goats.”
Worst flooding still to come
S.C. transportation officials late Tuesday prepared to block off certain Pee Dee roads and arrange detours after deciding several roads and bridges may be overtopped with flood waters.
Hydrologists who are advising the Natural Resources agency predict the Little Pee Dee – which was 16 feet, 8 inches above normal on Tuesday afternoon – will crest as high as 18 feet by Thursday, McCollough said.
“It’s already a record,” he said of the 16-foot mark the river reached at Galivants Ferry in 1928. “So, it’s how high does the record go.”
The National Weather Service forecast is bit less ominous for the Little Pee Dee at Galivants Ferry. The river, which eventually drains to Winyah Bay at Georgetown, was expected to crest at 17 feet, not 18 feet, sometime over night Tuesday.
A private dam in the southern part of Marion County, Baxley Farm dam, is partially breached but holding, the state environmental agency said. That dam is considered a “significant hazard,” which means it poses a risk to property and life, Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Robert Yannity said.
State and local officials received notice late Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is making federal disaster assistance available for recovery efforts in 13 hard-hit counties.
McCullough said his agency is turning its attention to central Horry County and the slow-moving but swelling Waccamaw River.
“We’re also very concerned about Conway,” he said, adding that local officials as of late Tuesday afternoon had not requested help from the state. “We’re standing by down there.”
Natural Resources’ projections place the Waccamaw cresting at 17 feet, 5 inches – just under its 1928 record of 17 feet, 8 inches, he said.
But federal data is slightly less dire.
With headwaters in flood-ravaged eastern North Carolina, the Waccamaw should reach 16.6 feet by Sunday afternoon – not 17.5 feet, according to the National Weather Service’s river forecast.
“Given the trend, it doesn’t look like it is approaching a crest anytime soon,” said Brian McCallum, data chief at the U.S. Geological Survey’s South Atlantic Water Science Center. “It seems feasible it might still continue going up” beyond Sunday.
The state of the Lowcountry
About 300 roads and bridges remained closed statewide Tuesday evening.
Gov. Nikki Haley said the state – buffeted several times in recent years by Mother Nature – is facing different challenges in the Lowcounty than in the Pee Dee.
Attention in the southern region is on recovery and getting people back to their homes. She called again for patience.
“Our job is not to make sure that you get back home in record time,” Haley said during a noon briefing. “ ... (I)t’s all about safety. I want you to take a second and count your blessings because you have your life.”
Hilton Head Island announced that people could return as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. Still, Fripp, Hunting and Harbor islands remain closed.
Statewide, 290,000 customers remained without power as of midday Tuesday, although 570,000 have had their power restored since Saturday, Haley said. The counties with the most outages are Horry, Beaufort and Florence.
Fewer than 42,000 South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. customers were still without power Tuesday evening, mainly in hard-hit areas along the coast, the utility said. Locally, 91 Richland County customers and 46 in Lexington County still were in the dark.
Officials in the Lexington County town of Springdale were keeping watch on a pond in the Shadblow neighborhood after one earthen dam breached but another held on Saturday.
State writers Jamie Self, Sammy Fretwell, Tim Flach, Roddie Burris and Bristow Marchant contributed.