Dramatic river rise leaves small Pee Dee town under water

A home sits in flood water in Nichols, S.C., Monday.
A home sits in flood water in Nichols, S.C., Monday. AP

When residents of Nichols went to bed Sunday a day after Hurricane Matthew pummeled South Carolina’s coast, they thought the worse was over.

But they awoke Monday to water rising fast in their small Pee Dee community 120 miles northeast of Columbia.

“They didn’t have time to get anything or to save anything,” State Sen. Kent Williams, D-Marion, said. “They just grabbed what they could grab in their arms and got out of there.”

More than 100 residents headed for Town Hall, the highest ground they could find. But they quickly found themselves surrounded by water from the neighboring Lumber River.

The call for help came around 5:30 a.m., said Capt. Robert McCullough, spokesman for the state Department of National Resources. Those displaced were taken to Palmetto Middle School in nearby Mullins, Williams said.

Nichols, eight miles south of the North Carolina border, is home to 400 residents.

An count of how many people were rescued is unclear, with reports from state officials ranging from 110 to 150.

Officers from the State Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole joined their natural resources counterparts and local officials in checking homes to assure no one is left behind.

Flooding is a sudden concern in communities that border rivers in the northeast corner of South Carolina.

Rain left by Hurricane Matthew reportedly caused the Lumber River to rise more than 20 feet in North Carolina.

At least seven dams breached upstream in North Carolina, McCullough said. S.C. officials are monitoring what kind of additional impact that will have as the water moves downstream.

It’s the first time in decades the river has overflowed into Nichols, Williams recalled. The area was not affected during floods last fall like it was Monday.

No flood-related deaths have been reported as of Monday. But many lost everything. The only way to reach any home in Nichols is by boat, Williams said.

“It’s going to be a long, long road to recovery,” Williams said. “We need prayer. We just need all of the help we can get down here.”

Staff writer Jamie Self contributed to this story.