Just a few miles north of a sign welcoming motorists to Conway, a “historic rivertown,” several cars and trucks – and boats – sit on the edge of Waccamaw Drive.
They belong to residents who live along the Waccamaw River, which is expected to crest at 17.2 feet just after midnight Sunday, at least a day earlier than officials expected. Several rivers flooded in North Carolina because of Hurricane Matthew earlier this week. The water is making its way downstream, flooding several South Carolina communities along the way.
As they have during past floods, residents of Waccamaw Drive are parking their cars on nearby roads and boating in and out of their homes. Many of the houses are elevated, said Maurice Stephens, a resident of the neighborhood who has lived on that street for eight years. Though his sits on stilts, many other houses don’t and are underwater.
Stephens, 52, has been staying elsewhere with family. He visits his home every other day to check on his cat. He said he’d be staying home, if it weren’t for the lack of power. He said he’s not too worried about water getting into his home.
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“The last two Octobers have been pretty cruel,” Stephens said. “Those things are going to happen when you live on the river.”
Randy Webster, the emergency management director for Horry County, said the residents of Waccamaw Drive and other areas that tend to flood are not under a mandatory evacuation. Many of them are used to dealing with flooding and they know they can call for help when they need it. As of Saturday, about 65 were staying in shelters in Horry County.
“We do not make them leave,” Webster said. “But they know the risk. The good thing about here is the water is pretty slow to rise.”
On Saturday it continued to do so. The Pee Dee River was already about two feet above record levels, while the Little Pee Dee was about five feet above record.
Meanwhile, the Waccamaw River was quickly approaching levels it reached during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. On Saturday morning, it sat at 16.90 feet. The Waccamaw rose a record 17 feet, 8 inches in 1928.
How bad the water has affected Conway neighborhoods this time around depends on where you live, Webster said.
Kevin Tovornik, a resident of Busbee Street along the Crab Tree Swamp, said the way the water rose on Oct. 8 during Hurricane Matthew was worse than during Floyd. Tovornik, 55, has lived at that house for 20 years with his wife, Mary.
“Floyd came through here and did the same thing,” Tovornik said. “What are you going to do?”
Water has not made its way into his home. It mainly has damaged items he had in his carport and destroyed his 1-year-old air conditioning unit. But he was able to save his baby in time: his reconstructed Harley-Davidson.
Tovornik’s backyard neighbor, 63-year-old John Keller, who lives on Long Avenue, didn’t fair the same. He and his wife, Joan, were riding out the storm with Tovornik, when they realized on Oct. 8 the water was coming up fast; about 1.5 feet in 45 minutes, he said.
Water has since made its way into the Kellers’ home, where they have lived in for two years. They’re originally from New York.
Keller has flood insurance but said there was no indication his home would flood when he bought it. During the October 2015 flood, the Kellers were surrounded by water. But it never made its way inside. This October, it did.
“I may not be here next October,” Keller said. “My wife and I are seriously considering it.”
He waded through waist-deep water Oct. 9 to get out of his house. He and his wife have been going in and out, attempting to save belongings they had stored in boxes. Now they’re monitoring the water to see how much farther inland it’ll rise between Saturday and Sunday.
Jean Marie Jenkins Fortson, who also lives on Busbee Street, said she moved back from the river so that she could get away from flooding. But on Saturday, her home was surrounded by water again.
“I can’t seem to get away from it,” she said. “It’s just frustrating.”
Jenkins Fortson said her insulation has been damaged, but she’s riding out the potential water rise in her home as long as she’s got power. The water rose to chest level nearby when she returned from Columbia on Oct. 9 after Hurricane Matthew, but it didn’t make it into her house.
Jenkins Fortson, too, lived in Conway during Hurricane Floyd. To her, the water damage was much worse then.
“All of Conway was underwater with Floyd,” Jenkins Fortson said. “I don’t think this has been as destructive to the downtown area yet.”
Parts of the closed riverwalk in downtown were covered in water Saturday. And the nearby Riverside restaurant and neighboring homes were surrounded. But downtown itself was not flooded.