At 3 p.m. Monday, Orangeburg city workers hopscotched on exposed rocks across the North Edisto River without getting their feet wet. Four hours and 8-10 inches of rain later, the river neared flood stage at 7.5 feet deep.
Everywhere in town, people say they’ve never seen anything like the deluge that hit late Monday afternoon.
The statues of children usually high and dry at Edisto Memorial Gardens suddenly stood chest deep in water Tuesday. An impossible-to-imagine tide worked its way across the Orangeburg County Library. The classical guitarist who had come to entertain residents at The Oaks retirement community was put to work sweeping water out of the flooded dining room; he couldn’t leave anyway because water covered the entry road.
“We got 10 inches,” said James McGee, CEO of The Oaks. “Drainage systems aren’t designed, roofs aren't designed to handle that kind of rain.”
The retirement community outside of town sits on flat ground that typically drains quickly. Less than 24 hours after the deluge, the grounds were dry. But inside the local ServPro franchise had set up 175 air movers and 35 dehumidifiers to dry soaked carpets.
A few months back, a five-inch rainfall created a few minor wet spots around doors, McGee said. Monday night, entire wings of the large complex were two to three inches deep. The roof leaked in a few spots, but most of the damage occurred because the square courtyards filled like huge rain gauges, and water could only soak slowly into the ground or under doors of the surrounding buildings.
Quick work by employees, with a helping hand from the guitar player, got the bulk of the water out by the time ServPro arrived with its equipment to dry out the floors. McGee offered to move residents in damp areas to other rooms, but most turned him down. No major structural or electrical damage was evident.
McGee, 66, said he has lived in Orangeburg his entire life and has never experienced rain like Monday night. Just a few miles away near the community of Cordova, Tony Odom’s rain gauge hit seven inches before he ran out and dumped it. Half an hour later, it had another 1.5 inches. By the Tuesday morning, the total for a 12-hour period in his yard was up to 10.55, he said.
Many spots in South Carolina received 2-3 inches in the slow moving thunderstorms that swept the state Monday. The clouds proved to be especially slow and wet around Orangeburg. A National Weather Service gauge on the North Edisto hit 8.91 inches, while the Orangeburg water plant gauge at Edisto Memorial Gardens hit 8.07 inches, with about six inches falling in two hours. The Orangeburg Municipal Airport got 4.19 inches Monday.
Fortunately, the area had been exceptionally dry, with less than an inch of rain in the previous month. Most of the flooded roads drained in a few hours. The North Edisto shot up to 7.5 feet but receded to 6.1 feet by Tuesday afternoon.
At Edisto Memorial Gardens, a low-lying trail area that had been bone dry Monday afternoon was a waist-deep lake, and two statues of children playing had looked to become statues of children swimming. A man-made pond jumped its usual boundary and spread into the rose arbor area. “We’ve never seen it come up there before,” said Jay Hiers, superintendent of Orangeburg city parks.
Damage was reported at several other spots, including several apartment buildings and offices downtown. The Red Cross opened a shelter for those displaced by the flood.
About the only people benefiting from the deluge were the disaster reclamation companies, and they were stretched to their limits. Josh Culler, owner of the local ServPro franchise, said his crews were up all night handling calls, and he had requested assistance from other franchises in the state. He had set up air blowers and dehumidifiers in The Oaks, the Orangeburg County Courthouse basement (minor damage to the solicitors office) and the library by early afternoon. “I’ve got a long list of jobs still to get to,” he said.
A steady stream of patrons drove up to the library only to spot the “closed until further notice due to water damage” signs. The rainfall built up in a small parking lot at the back of the building Monday afternoon, overwhelmed a storm drain, climbed over an 8-inch curb and left a debris line about a foot high on the back wall. Unfortunately, there is an emergency door on the wall, and water seeped underneath and throughout the building.
“We were lucky it was right before 7 o’clock and our staff was still here,” said Debra Allen, the library’s assistant director. “They said it was like a little river coming in. They got all the computers (unplugged and) off the floor. If it hadn’t been for them, we would have had a lot of damage.”
The water wasn’t deep enough to reach the first shelf of books, but portions of the carpet likely will have to be replaced. The back parking lot had some minor flooding problems in the past, but “we’ve never had anything like this before,” Allen said, “but we’ve never had 8 1/2 inches of rain in three hours before.”