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While memory of 2015 lingers, Lexington County neighborhood in doubt before Florence

Live from North Myrtle Beach, as Hurricane Florence’s winds begin to batter the area

The Herald's Hannah Smoot reporting live from North Myrtle Beach, S.C., just off Ocean Blvd., which is taking tropical storm-force winds from Hurricane Florence.
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The Herald's Hannah Smoot reporting live from North Myrtle Beach, S.C., just off Ocean Blvd., which is taking tropical storm-force winds from Hurricane Florence.

The storm clouds on Friday drifted over the empty above-ground pool in Joel and Kendall Davis’ backyard on Danby Court in Irmo.

“It slows that flood water,” Joel Davis said about the drained pool.

In October 2015, heavy rain from the “1,000-year flood” turned the streets in their subdivision off Coldstream Road into rivers. Neighborhood creeks swelled and filled homes. Estimates at the time said that the flooding damaged 400 residences in the community, some of which sit gutted and condemned today. The Davises had to move out of their home for two months after the flood.

The drained pool is one symbol of the uncertainty that residents on Danby Court and nearby streets feel ahead of Hurricane Florence, which is expected to move through the Midlands as a tropical storm this weekend. The unknown elements of the storm have some leaving and others preparing for another potential deluge.

“We don’t know what forecast is correct,” Kendall Davis said. “Everyone has something different.”

The doubt

Mary Rubin stood outside her two-story home on the corner of Danby and Berk courts securing a chain-link gate to a shrub so that the brooding winds would stop the entrance’s banging.

“I don’t care about the wind,” Rubin says. “It’s the rain I’m worried about.”

In this Oct. 5, 2015, photograph, DNR officer Brett Irvin and Lexington County Deputy Dan Rusinyak carry June Loch to dry land after she was rescued from her home in the Pine Glen subdivision off of Tram road in the St. Andrews area of Columbia. Some residents had to abandon their homes because of flooding coinciding with release of water from the Lake Murray dam. Tim Dominick

She learned some lessons from 2015’s flood. On Friday, she dug a small trench and attached a lengthy black drain pipe to the bottom of her gutters so that any potential flooding drains out of her backyard. She also lowered her pool to take in water.

Inside her garage, the water heater was raised on a foot-high stool and a new push mower sat atop a container to keep it out of any inundation. During the rains from three years ago, a foot or more of water filled her garage.

“Something just woke me up out of a dead sleep and I looked out my bedroom window,” she remembered from 2015. “I could see it all, the street, submerged in water.”

Water rose to half way up the stop sign on her corner, a car was stuck in water up to its windows, and Rubin had to take a kayak to get around, she remembers. With Florence, it’s hard to believe the rains will be as severe, she says, but she’s feeling unsettled.

“It (Florence) is just lingering,” she said. “If it lingers that long, why stay here and panic? I might as well just leave this area. ... If I had somewhere else to go I would.”

Karim Ramos was also struck by the disquiet pervading Danby Court.

Ramos didn’t live in his house on Danby Court the last time the neighborhood flooded. He moved in about a year ago, though all of his neighbors have filled him in with photos and stories.

Karim Ramos in his backyard near Rawls Creek
Karim Ramos looks onto Rawls Creek, which flooded his neighborhood in 2015 before he lived there. He said he’s nervous it could flood again if Hurricane Florence lingers in the Columbia area. By Zachery Eanes

The one-story house he now lives in had to be completely gutted after it flooded in 2015, though Ramos has added on a new porch to the back of it.

“As far as we know, we are counting on insurance,” he said while watching the wind pick up from his porch. “Everything is covered from my shed to the house. If anything goes down, I will go to my store. ... We are going to go there and lock ourselves down.”

Ramos said his neighbors have told him they aren’t really nervous about flooding, but that hasn’t stopped him from worrying.

“This right here is what I am worried about,” he said pointing toward Rawls Creek, which crosses his backyard. “Last month, it rained for like three days and the creek was fine, but then it rained for one solid day and it came all the way up to here,” he said, pointing about 10 yards into his backyard.

“This is nature, man; you can’t stop nature or a hurricane,” he said.

Lingering resentment

David Wirth walked his dog through Danby Court Friday morning. He wasn’t too concerned about flooding from Hurricane Florence, even though three years ago his home suffered $50,000 in damage from flooding.

“It was like 18 inches of rain that time,” he said, noting that the weather channels are forecasting less precipitation this time around. “I am not too concerned.”

Wirth, who has lived next to Rawls Creek for around 30 years, said three years ago, water covered his whole yard and about six to eight inches of the bottom floor of his house. His family had to move out for a while as renovations were done.

He said as long as SCE&G doesn’t release water from the Lake Murray dam like it did last time, his home should be fine. “Time will tell,” he said.

“I am sure (the dam)” caused the flooding last time, he said “I don’t know if it would’ve flooded if they hadn’t opened up the dam.”

Rawls Creek behind a boarded up house from the 2015 flood.JPG
Rawls Creek spilled over into homes in the 2015 flood, one of which is still boarded up and abandoned from damage it sustained three years ago. By David Travis Bland

Resentment about SCE&G’s 2015 actions linger in and around Danby Court, which is just downstream from the Lake Murray dam.

Three years ago, the Cayce-based utility released waters through dam to make way for a deluge from overwhelmed tributaries. The power company was sued by a number of people, including some who lived in the Coldstream neighborhood, claiming SCE&G was negligent and reckless in not releasing enough water from the 47,500-acre lake prior to record rain and in failing to give sufficient warning so homeowners could prepare. The suits are pending.

SCE&G says Lake Murray is currently at a level where it can hold additional water. On Wednesday, SCE&G said it is operating the Saluda Hydro facility at full power, meaning more water is running through the dam, “in preparation for heavy rainfall that Hurricane Florence is expected to bring.”

SCE&G officials will monitor the storm forecasts and make adjustments as needed, she said.

Residents around Danby Court and nearby Cannon Dale Road believe the company would have a hand in any flooding that comes from Hurricane Florence.

“It all depends on SCE&G,” Joel Davis said. “I don’t think they are (pre-emptively) releasing enough water from the dam from what I am seeing … (Rawls Creek) is going at a slow pace right now. They need to release more.”

The distrust of the company is a strong emotion and another unknown factor for residents like Rubin.

“They had to do what they had to do, but do you let it out (all out once) or do you let it out slow enough,” she said.

A final preparation

Rubin took one more step to strengthen her home in advance of Florence. It’s a step she took during the flood three years ago and one she’s used all her life.

Three years ago, as the water rose near her home and the flood came to her steps, she went upstairs and called her mother. Rubin told her mother she wanted the flood to stay out of her home. Her mother prayed for the flood to stay out, and prayed for her daughter’s safety.

When Rubin came back down, her boyfriend told her they couldn’t drive out.

“He said, ‘We’re not getting out.’” Rubin remembered. “The water was too deep. He said, ‘We’re having to go through this.’”

A quarter of an hour later, her boyfriend had some more news.

“He said ‘Hon, you’re not going to believe this,” she recalled. “And he goes, ‘The water’s receding. ... He goes, ‘Right after you and your mother prayed, it broke.’”

Thursday morning, Rubin anointed all of her home with oil, and she prayed.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” she said.

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