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Slow-moving Florence scatters damage, anxiety across SC

Florence blew the roof off of this Lexington County home

Winds related to Hurricane Florence lifted the roof off of Joseph Pilot's rental home in Gilbert, SC. Pilot was in the home when it happened.
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Winds related to Hurricane Florence lifted the roof off of Joseph Pilot's rental home in Gilbert, SC. Pilot was in the home when it happened.

The worst of Tropical Storm Florence is over for South Carolina’s Midlands.

As for Sunday morning, the state is no longer under a tropical storm warning and flash-flood watches for everywhere — except the northern Midlands and Pee Dee areas — have been canceled, said Rachel Cobb, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Instead, the state is under a lake wind advisory. Also, Lancaster, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Kershaw and Lee counties remain under a flash-flood watch, the Columbia National Weather Service office said in a statement.

“I wouldn’t say we’re out of the woods yet, but the heavier rain should stay to the north,” Cobb said at 11 p.m. Saturday.

Wind speeds in the Midlands are expected to top out at 40 miles per hour, with some gusts exceeding that, Cobb said.

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Florence was downgraded to a tropical depression from a tropical storm overnight by the National Hurricane Center. Though Florence caused only minor damage in the Columbia area, it was enough to cancel or delay multiple church services throughout the Midlands, according to WIS.

Elsewhere, Florence inflicted much more serious damage, leaving at least 11 dead and causing millions of dollars in damage throughout North Carolina and South Carolina.

The crawling storm doomed numerous trees and power lines in the Columbia area but overall brought “better weather than expected,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said Saturday afternoon.

At least a pair of Lexington County homes were damaged Saturday morning — one by a fallen tree in West Columbia; the other, a mobile home in Gilbert, when the roof was torn off by the wind.

Fallen trees and limbs temporarily blocked numerous roads throughout Richland and Lexington counties, but most were cleared quickly. A “relatively large” tree fell at Gadsden Elementary School in Lower Richland but did not cause any damage to the school, Richland 1 superintendent Craig Witherspoon said.

The only storm-related injury reported in Columbia as of Saturday afternoon was a firefighter with a rolled ankle, according to Columbia city manager Teresa Wilson. At the West Columbia home damaged by a tree, a person inside was treated for a leg injury.

One death in South Carolina was being attributed to Florence as of Saturday. A 61-year-old woman in the Upstate’s Union County died Friday night when she drove her car into a tree that had fallen across S.C. 18, the Associated Press reported.

The Columbia area felt relatively mild effects despite earlier warnings that Florence could rival the infamous 2015 storm that caused historic flooding.

Local officials and forecasters cautioned, however, the storm would continue for hours, moving westward at just 3 mph and bringing continued wind and rain to the Midlands through Sunday afternoon or evening.

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However, locals, who had been on high alert, cautiously were optimistic the Midlands would escape the worst of Florence.

Eastern North Carolina and the northeastern parts of South Carolina weren’t so lucky, as Florence dumped more than 2 feet of rain in some areas.

Among those killed in North Carolina were a mother and infant, killed when a tree fell on their home, two killed by flash flooding, one dying by electrocution, one blown over by wind and one killed of a heart attack, as rescuers trying to reach her were delayed by fallen trees.

More than 1 million people were without power throughout both Carolinas at one point Saturday, The Charlotte Observer reported. Outages in South Carolina peaked at 174,000 Saturday, but decreased to about 67,000 by 9 p.m., according to tweets posted by the S.C. Emergency Management Division.

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Tens of thousands of people throughout the eastern regions of both states remained on high alert for flooding from rainfall, rising rivers and coastal storm surges.

Conditions in the Pee Dee region were expected to worsen in the coming days, with the potential of disastrous river flooding. The heavy rainfall that fell on North Carolina was expected to flow downriver and wash through South Carolina areas, including Cheraw and Lake Wateree.

The town of Cheraw, where the Pee Dee River flows just below the Carolinas border, is expected to see that river reach flood stage at about 40 feet by Sunday evening, the National Weather Service predicts. The river in Cheraw could crest at up to five times its normal level — of 9 feet — by Tuesday and remain there, at more than 47 feet, through at least Thursday.

It would be the second-highest river crest on record in Cheraw, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Rohrbach said. That likely would cause “extensive” flooding of farmland and of secondary roads downstream of Cheraw, Rohrbach said.

Forecasters also warn of flooding around Lake Wateree, fed by the swollen Catawba River. By early next week, water levels at the lake are expected to rise to 104 feet, which is near major flood stage, Rohrbach said. Basements or areas beneath raised homes surrounding the lake could see water damage, he said.

Flooding was also expected along the Waccamaw River in Conway and the Little Pee Dee River in Galivants Ferry starting Saturday, The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News reported.

Many S.C. schools could reopen as soon as Monday, as Gov. Henry McMaster lifted his closure order Saturday afternoon, with the exception of schools in Horry and Georgetown counties. Individual districts will make their own calls on when to open. The University of South Carolina said it would resume classes Monday.

The forecast for the Columbia area remains rainy and windy through Sunday. Rainfall would be less widespread Sunday as the eastern side of Florence passes over the region, but there could be spotty areas of heavier showers and thunderstorms Sunday afternoon, Rohrbach said.

Columbia’s rainfall totals are expected to be between 2 inches and 4 inches by Monday, according to the Weather Service. More eastern parts of the Midlands would see up to 10 inches.

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