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Dams were in danger of failing, sheriff says, as Hurricane Florence smashed SC county

Roadway flooded on Teals Mill Pond near dam in Cheraw, SC

Floodwaters on Teals Mill Pond near Cheraw, South Carolina, washed out a road near the dam, Sept. 16, 2018.
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Floodwaters on Teals Mill Pond near Cheraw, South Carolina, washed out a road near the dam, Sept. 16, 2018.

The Cheraw State Park dam stood intact Monday after surviving torrential rains and flood waters that hammered Chesterfield County this past weekend.

Sheriff’s deputies had gone door-to-door to tell people living below the dam that it was in potential danger of failure Sunday night, but the waters of Lake Juniper had receded somewhat by 11 a.m. Monday.

Nancy Coleman was relieved to hear that. She and her elderly mother had packed their bags to leave if an evacuation order came. Coleman’s mother owns a home near the bottom of the state park dam in the Country Club Estates neighborhood.

“We slept in our clothes and were ready’’ to leave, Coleman said.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks said he’s glad the dam held up, but he wanted those downstream to be aware of the battering the dam was taking Sunday night.

“We didn’t tell them to leave, but we told them this dam could compromise,’’ he said. “We just want you to know what could happen if it does.’’

Inspectors from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who visited the dam Monday morning, said it appears to have held up without major damage. But the dam may have suffered some erosion that could require repairs, Corps dam inspector Steven Bath said.

Monday’s good news about the Cheraw State Park dam followed a tense Sunday that sent many people fleeing to higher ground as concerns rose about the safety of dams in the area. Creeks spilled their banks and flooded some homes over the weekend.

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Brooks said the dam at Chatham Lake also was a concern, but was holding up Sunday night.

The weekend’s problems resulted from extraordinary rainfall that hit the Carolinas as a result of Hurricane Florence, a wide storm that blasted North Carolina’s coast before moving inland. As much as 2 feet of rain fell on parts of North Carolina, but eastern South Carolina also was pelted for days. Rain in North Carolina was swelling creeks and rivers that flow into South Carolina.

Creeks that feed into the Great Pee Dee River had risen so high that dozens of people had to evacuate to higher ground over the weekend, Brooks and Cheraw Police Chief Keith Thomas said. Thomas said 10 to 12 families had to be evacuated early Sunday, while another 10 motorists had to be rescued from cars stranded in flooded intersections.

Heavy rains also forced the evacuation of a shelter at the town’s community center Sunday night.

The SC town of Cheraw is bracing for widespread flooding after Hurricane Florence dumped torrential rains in North Carolina. The Great Pee Dee River flows from North Carolina through the small town.

Thomas said water started creeping into the town’s community center, eventually putting more than a foot of water inside, he said. Those staying at the shelter were then evacuated to Cheraw High School, he and Brooks said.

“We got the National Guard vehicles and we evacuated,’’ Thomas said Sunday night. “We had a little over 50 when it started flooding, and another 20 showed up, and we had to take them to the high school as well.’’

Among those evacuated from homes earlier Sunday was an elderly man, whose brick house and yard filled with water from nearby Bear Creek, which had spilled its banks and flooded out a road. At Teal’s Mill Pond, locals said an old dam that already was in disrepair was being pounded with high water. At about 6:30 p.m., water was pouring over the highway and dam.

A developing problem, Brooks said, was where people can go if their homes are in danger of flooding. Many roads in the county are washed out, making it difficult for people to find shelter or get out of the area, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of roads closed, we’ve got a lot of communities isolated,’’ Brooks said.

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