In the span of an hour and a half Wednesday night, Rocky Branch, the creek at Pickens Street near Five Points, swelled from 1½ feet to 10½ feet thanks to a once-every-25-years rainfall.
But there was another problem: Thursday and today are yard debris days in some of the neighborhoods surrounding Five Points, which means most homeowners had grass clippings, leaves and mulch sitting out on their curbs Wednesday night.
The rain washed those yard clippings into Five Points, the lowest point in the city, and quickly clogged the storm drains, causing some business owners to ask city officials to once again consider requiring homeowners to bag their yard debris.
"That is one thing that seemed different last night was the sheer amount of yard clippings," said Don McCalister, president of the Five Points Association and owner of Loose Lucy's, which had several fans inside Thursday to help dry out the shop's carpet. "It may be time for the city to consider some kind of bagging ordinance."
The city did consider a bagging ordinance last year, but nixed it after residents complained. Richland County Council members considered a bagging ordinance earlier this year, but delayed any action until the fall.
Five Points sits in a valley, surrounded by neighborhoods perched on hills. But the neighborhoods consider themselves part of Five Points, and Mayor Bob Coble hopes they will voluntarily bag their yard debris.
"I think neighborhoods surrounding Five Points, with an educational program, would be supportive of helping Five Points because that's their neighborhood," Coble said.
Marcus Manos, president of the University Hill Neighborhood Association, said he normally bags his yard debris, but would have to meet with his executive council before deciding if bagging is something the neighborhood adjacent to USC could do.
"Nobody wants to see Five Points flooded," he said.
But Pat Hubbard, a resident in the Old Shandon neighborhood, said bagging yard debris won't fix the problem.
"I have a huge city oak tree in my front yard. It drops a lot of leaves. Am I going to have to pay to bag the city's leaves?" Hubbard said. "I guess as I understand it, we don't know whether that is causing the problem, so let's get people to voluntarily go to a whole lot of trouble."
Scott Linaberry, owner of Red Hot Tomatoes and Sharky's on Harden Street in Five Points, is convinced yard debris is to blame.
Linaberry was at home Wednesday night when his employees called him saying they were going to have to shut the bar down because it was flooded.
When Linaberry got to the bar, he unclogged the storm drains himself. Within minutes, the waters had receded, he said.
"It's the worst I've ever seen it. The water was covering the median."
It was so high some people had to push their cars through waist-deep water, while other simply used canoes.
Two years ago, the city finished $35.3 million worth of improvements - including adding grates and a 54-inch drainage pipe - designed to help alleviate Five Points' repeated flooding.
City officials said the drainage system did its job Wednesday night, but the debris caused the problems.
"If they're plugged, we're just dead," Columbia utilities director John Dooley said.
Add in the amount of water, 3.77 inches, which fell in such a short time - 90 minutes - and Five Points had all the ingredients for a flood.
The powerful but brief storm was the result of a frontal boundary from the west running into the moist sea breeze from the east, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Proud. Eastern Lexington County and Columbia were at the epicenter. Areas only a few miles north or south of the system got little to no rain.
The official gauge at Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport in downtown Columbia, a mile or so from Five Points, registered 2.5 inches from 10:49 p.m. through 11:53 p.m., according to the weather service. The numbers were even more impressive at a couple of volunteer weather stations sanctioned by the weather service, though no widespread damage was reported.
One in the Seven Oaks area of Richland County registered 4.47 inches and one east of the town of Lexington got 3.91 inches.
In Cayce, a section of sidewalk at the intersection of Knox Abbott and State streets near Guignard Park closed after rain washed out the dirt supporting a utility pole and exposed gas and electrical lines. Part of the intersection was closed as crews made repairs.
The heaviest official one-day rainfall in Columbia was 5.79 inches on July 9, 1959. At least 15 days have daily records higher than 3.77 inches. The state's all-time daily high was 17 inches in Abbeville County on Aug. 28, 1995, during Hurricane Jerry.
Staff writer Joey Holleman and photographer Erik Campos contributed. Reach Beam at (803) 771-8405.
Video: Scott Linaberry, owner of Sharky's and Red Hot Tomatoes, talks to reporter Adam Beam about massive flooding in Five Points.