Andy Pack’s lakeside home escaped damage during the weekend's heavy rainfall and flash floods that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and claimed more than a dozen lives across South Carolina.
But under a cloudless blue sky, Pack watched as a slow-moving menace continued to creep up the yellow brick of his Lake Marion home.
“It's just getting here,” said Pack of the weekend's heavy rainfall, which is causing the lake to swell as floodwaters continue to course toward the coast.
Further inland, residents of Manning and Summerton in Clarendon County were assessing the damage.
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Manning Mayor Julia Nelson said she had to have law enforcement officers in a jeep guide her through floodwaters that trapped her in her neighborhood so she could assess the damage in town after the storm.
But Clarendon County was fortunate, she said. There have been no weather-related fatalities.
The closure of Interstate 95 created a challenge for about a day, when stranded motorists filled hotels and spilled over into shelters, Nelson said.
State transportation officials closed the interstate Sunday from Florence to Orangeburg. Wednesday afternoon, the 75-mile stretch was open for local traffic only south of Florence and north of Orangeburg but remained closed from Manning to an exit southwest of Turbeville.
When electricity went out over the weekend, Piggly Wiggly and Walmart donated food that volunteers cooked on grills “so some people could get hot meals,” she added.
Flood victims picked through donated clothing Wednesday at a shelter set up in Scott’s Branch Middle School. The school was the landing place for many residents of a Summerton apartment complex that flooded.
Donald Kelly said he has been staying at the shelter since Saturday night, when police officers came to his Summerton trailer and told him to evacuate.
On his way to investigate his home for the first time Wednesday, Kelly said he was amazed by the intensity of the storm that struck the state. “I always see this on TV, but I never thought I’d see it with my own eyes: People on boats getting shipped out,” he said. “I never would have thought that.”
Searches continue as water recedes
At daybreak Wednesday, firefighters, S.C. Army National Guard members and other volunteer rescue groups were buzzing about the Clarendon County emergency operations center.
An urban search-and-rescue team from Fairfax County, Va., took boats to Lake Marion to check on the welfare of residents, figuring there were areas that could not be reached by roads, washed out by the floodwaters.
Failing roads and bridges made traveling difficult in the rural areas northeast of the lake Wednesday. One bridge – open in the morning – was declared unsafe about 2 p.m.
National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Cindi King said 3,000 Guardsmen have been deployed across South Carolina – a number that is increasing as teams move east, assessing damage as floodwaters recede.
The Guard also has teams delivering water. Others still are engaged in search-and-rescue efforts, she said. High-water teams are “looking for people who are stuck or trapped, bringing in supplies and really anything that the county requests,” King said.
‘Got this feeling that it’s going to come’
The Virginia-based rescue team pulled up its boats around noon at Elliot’s Landing and Campground on Lake Marion.
Louis and Sandra Elliot, who operate the landing, waited out the weekend torrents there with their son Mark.
The property temporarily was turned into an island after the swamp and two ponds that flank their dirt-road driveway overflowed, turning their only earthen escape route into a riverbed.
The Elliots were spending the mostly placid Wednesday watching the lake level. The lake rose 3 feet Tuesday, Mark Elliot said, adding it seemed to be slowing down, rising about an inch every three hours. Any higher, he said, and the waters could breach a dock extending from the landing.
“We don’t know how high it’s going to come,” he said.
Joe Tong, a resident camper at Elliot’s Landing, said he had a plan for when the water flooded the campground: move to higher ground. “Worst-case scenario is we abandon everything and take the kayaks and paddle out.”
On Wednesday, John and Brandon Finotti were enjoying the Elliot’s dock. The father-and-son fishing duo said they had grown tired of sitting around at home in Sumter, a town hit hard by the flooding, and decided to go fishing. “Three days is enough,” the elder Finotti said.
By noon, the two had filled a cooler with catfish and were awaiting more. They chatted about snakes and logs they saw drifting into the pier, not too far above the water’s surface – the highest they and others around the lake said they had seen it.
Further up the lake, the scene unfolding was less promising.
A bridge on the road between Elliot’s Landing and Pack’s Landing was closed, but a chain of muddy side roads provided an alternative route.
By Wednesday afternoon, the water had flooded the family-owned Pack’s Landing, submerging a dock and encircling Andy Pack’s home. Seeing the rising waters, Pack had time to move his belongings from his house, preparing for what he anticipated would be irreversible damage.
“We moved all that stuff out, and I hope it wasn't in vain,” he said from a small boat, about to head out onto the water. “However, we've got more water than I've ever seen in my lifetime, and hearing 20 inches of rain around the state, I've just got this feeling that it's going to come. It's going to be more.”
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.