Since Sunday, this sprawling rural community at Richland County’s southeastern edge has seen floods, power and cell phone outages, water and food shortages and isolation from the outside world as roads gave way and bridges crumbled.
And Wednesday, death came to Gadsden when two railroad workers traveling back to their hotel in a pickup truck ran a barricade on a dark, low-lying, two-lane in the rear of McEntire Air National Guard Station, sailed off a cliff where a bridge used to be and ended up in 20 feet of water.
“We’ve been busy, we come in, we eat and hydrate up and go right back out,” said Columbia firefighter Charles Boone, 48, a 21-year veteran firefighter. He is based in Gadsden and, like most firefighters, has been working almost non-stop since Sunday.
Gadsden is one of several towns and communities spread like beads across Lower Richland, a low-lying area of swamps and woods between U.S. 76/378 Sumter-Columbia route and the vast Congaree National Park. When the floods hit Sunday and Monday, numerous stretches of roads and bridges washed out, leaving these communities largely cut off from the rest of the county.
A mile down the road from the fire station, at the Gadsden Park community center, community volunteers, S.C. National Guardsmen and women, S.C. Department of Natural Resources officers and Richland County sheriff’s deputies handed out bags of ice, water, canned food, toilet paper and other household goods.
Tuesday, the officers and volunteers drove to outlying houses to deliver water and other goods. On Wednesday, they distributed goods and water to hundreds of folks who came to the center. And electricity, which powers the pumps to water wells in the area, came back on.
“We have well water – we don’t know how good it is now, ” said Kevin O’Berry, 47, who dropped by with his twin brother, Kenneth, to pick up much-needed supplies. “We don’t need much.” They lost power and cell phone service. It’s back on, and their house is still standing.
Another person loading up with bags of ice and water was Lenora White, 35, who said, “I’m just sad it took a situation like this for everyone to come together and want to help.” She said her house, where she has taken in two other families, is still standing. “I’m just thankful,” she said.
Officials and volunteers said they seemed to have plenty of water, but needed boxed diapers, paper towels, canned soups, toilet paper, nutritional drinks such as Ensure and fresh fruits, such as apples and bananas. And cookies, too.
“We ran out of animal crackers – a lot of people got kids,” said DNR Sgt. Pat Rivers.
Folks at the distribution center credited Richland County Council member Kelvin Washington, who lives in Gadsden and whose house was cut off by rising waters Sunday and part of Monday, with bringing attention and getting relief to the community.
Washington, who flew over his community Wednesday afternoon in a National Guard helicopter, said later that his community remains seriously cut off. Because nearly all the roads to and from Gadsden have bridges out or washed out sections of road, it is a 40-mile trek to get from one end of Gadsden to the another, and a long roundabout trek to get to Columbia and back.
Folks in urban areas were hit hard, Washington said, but they live near pharmacies and hospitals and major grocery stores. The people in Gadsden have medical problems and will need medicines refilled and services such as dialysis, he said.
State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, who lives down the road in Hopkins, said his community also was hit hard. Neal, too, said Lower Richland’s roads and bridges were devastated.
“This is serious for children in their school buses,” Neal said. “How are you going to get children to school if you can’t be sure the roads and bridges are safe?”
At the Gadsden fire station, which is part of the Columbia system, firefighter Boone said his colleagues don’t see a quick end to the work that needs to be done, but they are ready.
“This is what we do, and we work til we drop,” Boone said.