Relief will come slowly for Waccamaw River residents as the river gradually falls little by little after its third-highest crest ever Thursday, forecasters said.
The river reached the predicted 16.1 feet Thursday night, exceeding levels experienced during the 1998 El Nino event and staying about 1.7 feet below the 17.8 level during Hurricane Floyd, weather officials said.
As the river has peaked, many are wondering when the high water will recede, especially with more rain in the forecast this weekend.
Forecasters said the answer to that question is very slowly.
“[The Waccamaw River is] very wide, slow-moving water. It takes a lot for it to get to flood levels, and once it does, it’s very slow to recede,” said Dave Loewenthal, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.
On Friday morning, Loewenthal said the river had already begun to fall and was down to around 16 feet from the 16.1-foot peak.
The river could stay at major flood level for the next eight to 10 days, with the river likely dropping at a rate of three to four inches a day, Loewenthal said.
“This is a wide, marshy river and it reacts very slowly,” Loewenthal said.
Loewenthal said it was possible the river could still be at minor flood stage, which is at 11 feet, even three weeks from now.
Over the next four to five days residents should start to notice a difference in the river’s high water level, he said.
The river is expected to be down to 14.5 feet by Wednesday morning - nearly two feet below its cresting level, but still at major flood level, according to a river flood assessment model created by Reid Hawkins, science and operations officer with the weather service.
As for the weekend rain in the forecast expected to start around midnight Friday and continue into Sunday, Loewenthal said the Grand Strand will see roughly two inches at the most, but that amount is not expected.
It’s a remote possibility that the area would see that much rain, he said; forecasters are expecting about half an inch to one inch.
“If we get a couple of inches the river would likely hold steady where it is,” Loewenthal said.
The river would need around four inches of additional rainfall to make a noticeable and troublesome impact, but that amount is not projected, he said.
After the weekend rain, drier days are in the forecast for early next week, with highs in the mid 70s, which will provide a comfortable backdrop for flood relief workers weather-wise.
Brian VanAernem, Horry County Fire Rescue spokesman, said most residents along the river have either hunkered down and prepared to stay or have already evacuated.
Brooke Holden, Horry County Emergency Management Division spokeswoman, said there were two evacuations made by HCFR Thursday night.
Holden said residents who plan to stay in their riverbank homes should consider moving to higher ground or relocating if needed.
Holden offered the following tips for residents who have decided to continue to stay in their riverbank homes despite flooding: “Be vigilant of rising water. Prepare to have plenty food and water. Be aware of potential electrical issues.”
Boat patrols by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources that started earlier this week continued Friday. The workers on patrols are assisting river residents who may want to leave, and DNR workers had counted about 90 people who wanted to stay put in their riverbank homes on Thursday afternoon.
There are also 14 checkpoints set up along the river manned by Horry County police and National Guardsmen.
The workers on boat patrols and at checkpoints will be in place assisting anyone who needs help or has questions.
Georgetown County also had major flooding issues Thursday, and authorities recommended evacuations for the Oatland and Dunbar communities as flooding intensified and roads in those areas were closing, cutting residents off from main highway systems.
The weather service issued a flood advisory for Black River areas in central Georgetown County and east central Williamsburg County about 1 p.m. Thursday, and that advisory is in place until 1 p.m. Tuesday, authorities said.
Weather officials said in the advisory notice that an additional one to two feet of water is possible in the Andrews area before the river crests, which is likely to occur on Saturday.
Officials said points downstream of the Andrews area will see rising water levels into early next week.
Help, including federal aid, is also available to flood victims in Horry, Georgetown, and other areas of the state affected by the flood.
Anyone who needs assistance evacuating or has any questions should call the Georgetown County Emergency Operations Disaster Call Center at 843-545-3273.
Shelters still open:
Shelters also remain open until further notice in Horry County and Georgetown County.
In Horry County:
▪ Risen Christ Lutheran Church, 10595 North Kings Hwy. in Myrtle Beach, just south of Barefoot Landing
▪ Beach Church, 557 George Bishop Pkwy., Use Harrelson Boulevard to access the church. If you are planning to stay in this shelter, please drive to the back of the church and look for the adventure building and enter at the back door.
▪ First United Methodist, 1001 5th Ave, in Conway
- About nine people in Horry County shelters Friday morning. Services will continue as planned at these churches Sunday as those sheltered are staying in on-site facilities at the churches where regular services are not held.
In Georgetown County:
▪ Beck Recreation Center, 2030 Church Street, Georgetown
▪ Andrews Recreation Center, 209 S. Maple St., Andrews
▪ Pleasant Hill Elementary School, 127 Schoolhouse Drive, Georgetown
- About 25 people in Georgetown County shelters Friday morning