Just as flood-battered Forest Acres dug out of the mud Monday, the community learned that another slug of water threatened neighborhoods and businesses along Gills Creek.
A dam that broke near Rockyford Lake in northeast Richland County sent a torrent of water through the Gills Creek system. Some areas already suffering from last weekend’s record water levels were flooded. By dusk Monday, the water had risen by several feet in some parts of Forest Acres, particularly behind a line of stores near the Gills Creek bridge on Forest Drive.
The flooding didn’t initially appear to be as dramatic as the floods that occurred over the weekend, but police evacuated about 500 homes near Forest Lake and closed off access to a bridge across Gills Creek. Police Chief Gene Sealy also warned that a dam separating Forest Lake from Spring Lake was eroding and vulnerable.
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That dam is one of three that authorities were watching for possible signs of failure. Four dams already have failed in Richland County, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Among them was a dam at Cary Lake, where water had rushed out and exposed the lake bed.
“There are more dams that could break,’’ Sealy said.
Forest Acres Mayor Frank Brunson said the failed dam at Rockyford Lake was painful for his community to deal with.
Brunson said he thought the worst of the flood threat was over “until I started hearing that rain again about five o’clock this morning. Driving around with the chief last night, a lot of the water had actually receded.’’
The failure of the Overcreek Road dam at Rockyford Lake sent some evacuees to a shelter at A.C. Flora High School. Many of the more than 100 people at the shelter prepared to sleep on cots for the night. Pizza was brought in by local churches. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin visited the shelter to encourage people staying there.
“We were told to evacuate because the flood was headed our way,’’ said Cheryl Weston, who lives in a second-floor apartment on Satchelford Road. “You never know. They say water is powerful. I heard the water could get high.’’
The dam breach Monday afternoon followed a morning of hope in the Forest Acreas area — particularly for people like Aaron Dupree.
Slimy mud from a canal near Lake Katherine coated the inside of Dupree’s home Monday. He had stood chest deep in water, just 24 hours earlier, carrying his four young children to a boat that had come to rescue them from the flood. The rescue was necessary after about 16 inches of rain fell in the Forest Acres area from Saturday night to Sunday night.
On Monday, Dupree tried to salvage some of his family’s possessions.
“I talked to my insurance company and a restoration company, and was told to get all of your valuables out of the house,’’ said Dupree, a tired smile on his face. “So, that’s what we’re doing now. We’ve gotten just about all of our laundry out. We’ll come back tomorrow and do some more.’’
All across Forest Acres, residents were digging out of the muck. Homeowners hit by historic floods over the weekend swept mud from houses, hauled possessions to awaiting vehicles and began looking to rebuild their lives.
By Monday morning, water that had turned many streets into rivers had begun to subside in places.
Matt Buffum, a neighbor of the Duprees, said people who live near Lake Katherine were beginning to realize what they had lost.
“Their priority is ‘I’ve got to survive, I’ve got to feed kids and I’ve got to find clothes for the kids,’ ” he said. “You never would fathom something like this could happen in the neighborhood. I have friends who don’t have houses they can use.’’
State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said he was concerned that some homeowners didn’t have flood insurance. He was checking to see if federal disaster aid would help cover uninsured losses.
Surveying the damage around Forest Lake, near where he grew up, Lourie said the flood’s impact appeared to be worse than that of Hurricane Hugo, a major 1989 storm that caused more wind damage in the Midlands than flooding.
“People have lost their homes, there is infrastructure damage like I’ve never seen before – it’s like something from a movie,’’ Lourie said. “This is a crisis and a catastrophe.’’
Lourie was among the first to warn the public, later in the day, of the dam break near Rockyford Lake.
Around the corner from the Forest Lake dam, rising waters had eaten away about 30 yards of a lawn along a creek, toppling trees into the boiling current. Part of the roadway over the dam was blocked by huge pine trees.
As for Dupree, getting back to normal is his goal after a harrowing weekend. His house Monday was a mess. A baby doll lay on a piece of furniture, coated partially in mud. Mud covered the floor. Marks were visible on the walls where the water had risen to chest high levels. Across the street, Dupree’s sport utility vehicle sat askew in a neighbor’s yard. Even a master bedroom that is four-feet higher than the rest of the house was in disarray from the rising water.
“We’re trying to salvage what we can at this point,’’ he said, noting that, given the circumstances, “we’re all doing pretty well. The kids are in good shape.’’