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Tropical Storm Florence slowly scraping its way across Midlands

Tropical Storm Florence started its slow trek across the Midlands Saturday, downing trees, knocking out power and putting emergency crews on high alert for flooding as the result of extended rainfall.

While the storm continued to weaken, the National Weather Service of Columbia warned Saturday that Florence continued to be a threat and was anticipated to bring up to 4 inches of rain to the Midlands by Monday. Isolated tornadoes are also possible.

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“The strong wind gusts may down trees and power lines. The heavy rainfall will increase the risk of trees uprooting and toppling,” according to a news release from the weather service in Columbia. “The largest threat will be from heavy rain and flooding, with excessive rainfall still possible in the Pee Dee region.”

As of press time Saturday morning, the Midlands had begun to feel the large storm’s impact:

  • Several roads in Lexington County were closed Friday night and Saturday morning because of downed trees and utility lines, the county reported. They included Corley Mill Road, Old Chapin Road, Catawba Trail and Wyatt Way. Utility lines went down on the 3800 block of S.C. 6.

  • The number of power outages significantly increased Saturday morning, according to SCE&G. In Richland, Lexington and parts of Newberry and Fairfield counties, nearly 3,200 outages were reported.

That number was anticipated to rise throughout the weekend. Because the storm was moving slowly, just 2 mph, S.C. utility companies were warning of lengthy delays before bad weather cleared enough for crews to safely get into the field and make repairs. Officials with Cayce-based SCE&G told customers to be prepared for up to weeklong outages.

Richland County officials were expecting heavy downpours throughout Saturday and smaller amounts of rain Sunday.

“Conditions will improve on Monday, but flooding on the area rivers will increase as the runoff from heavy rains moves through the river basins,” the weather service said.

Winds will diminish on Sunday with conditions improving by Monday. Moderate flooding is possible along the Congaree River, according to the weather service.

Take a trip up Myrtle Beach's Ocean Blvd. as Hurricane Florence arrives Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

Officials with the Columbia Police Department were checking for damage Saturday morning.

“As the storm starts to unfold locally, we ask that everyone stay off the roadways,” said Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook. “Keep the roads open so we can respond and assist when necessary.”

Richland County Emergency Services Director Michael Byrd said his office was prepared for flooding and encouraged residents in areas impacted by Columbia’s 2015 historic flooding to move to higher ground. Richland County Council chairwoman Joyce Dickerson said the county has put in place “strong monitoring” in those flood-prone areas.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said his forces have trained with Columba police and the Columbia-Richland Fire Department for an emergency like Florence.

“We’ve been prepared for three years now after the (flood) in 2015,” Lott said. “We learned from our mistake. Our equipment is better than we had. Our personnel is ready. We have everybody staged. We’ve had a whole week now to get prepared. We’re trained and ready to go.”

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Lexington County also asked that people avoid driving on the roads.

S.C. National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Cindi King said troops with high-water rescue vehicles and helicopters are in place and ready to be dispatched across the state.

Throughout the week, Midlands officials had warned that Florence’s impact could be comparable to 2015, when the Columbia area was swamped with about 20 inches of rain in less than a week, breaking dams, washing out roads and destroying homes.

“As we experienced in the flood of 2015, we may have some areas that are isolated for a lot of time, up to a week,” Byrd said. “So any preparation you can take now will be well worth it if you find yourself in that situation.”

But as of Saturday morning, it appeared the capital city area would fare better through Florence than it did in 2015.

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Amy Johnson captured this video of flood waters from the Pungo River pushed into East Street of Belhaven, NC by Hurricane Florence early Friday morning, Sept. 14, 2018.

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