Florence deaths rise to 6 in South Carolina. Pee Dee braces for more flooding

Florence’s heavy rains hammered South Carolina’s northern counties Sunday, causing flooding, road closures and evacuations in the Pee Dee and parts of the Piedmont.

The storm also has resulted in six S.C. deaths, in addition to 10 fatalities in North Carolina.

A truck traveling west on Interstate 20 near mile marker 106 in Kershaw County on Sunday morning drove into standing water, hydroplaned off the road and struck an overpass support beam, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. The driver, Jeffery Youngren, 42, of Elgin, died on scene, Kershaw Coroner David West said.

In Lexington on Sunday morning, a truck traveling east on Pond Branch Road near Gilbert hit standing water, slid off the road and struck a tree. The wreck killed the driver, 30-year-old Rhonda Rebecca Hartley of Leesville, according to Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher.

At about 2:20 a.m. Sunday, Michael Dalton Prince, 23, of Georgetown, drowned after the truck he was riding in overturned in water running across a road, Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson said. The driver and another passenger escaped.

Debra Collins Rion, 61, and Mark Carter King, 63, were found dead in their Loris home Friday night, The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News reported. The cause of death was carbon-monoxide poisoning from a generator. The Associated Press also reported that a 61-year-old woman died Friday night in Union County after driving her car into a fallen tree.

Once a powerful hurricane, Florence continued to drift northwest across the state Sunday as a tropical depression, said Dan Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The storm’s impact on Columbia has been mostly steady, light rainfall, resulting in about 2 to 3 inches of precipitation, Miller said. However, heavy rainfall continued to threaten northern counties and the Pee Dee on Sunday.

Marion County already has been hit hard by heavy rains and flash flooding, and county officials expected conditions to worsen Sunday as Florence slogged through.

The town of Nichols has been evacuated, a flashback of 2016 when the Marion County community was devastated by flooding during Hurricane Matthew. More than 400 people were staying in three shelters in Marion County as of Sunday morning, Marion County administrator Tim Harper told The State.

The county had conducted about 100 swift-water rescues, he said. The towns of Marion and Mullins are suffering from flash flooding and expect more serious river flooding to begin Sunday evening.

Florence had dumped more than 15 inches of rain on Marion County and more than 16 inches on Chesterfield as of Sunday afternoon, state officials said.

“It has been raining nonstop,” Harper said, adding flooding has been exacerbated by a storm surge brought to the coast by Florence.

“The water has nowhere to go,” he said.

Marion County is telling anyone in low -ing areas to get out and seek shelter elsewhere, he said.

Interstate 95 is closed between mile marker 181 and 190 in Dillon County, and there are local road closures in Darlington, Dillon, Georgetown and Horry counties. And Horry County rivers are expected to rise.

As of 11 a.m. Sunday, power companies serving South Carolina reported about 50,000 power outages. That number had been reduced to about 33,000 around 4 p.m. Sunday.

About 4,000 people were still in 63 shelters across the state Sunday morning, but only about 1,200 remained in 41 shelters, including 11 for medical needs, Sunday afternoon, state officials reported.

The Columbia area was spared a repeat of the record-setting flooding of 2015, when a storm system water logged the Midlands, resulting in multiple dams failing and catastrophic flooding along Gills Creek in Forest Acres, around the lakes and elsewhere in the Midlands.

Sunday morning, Gills Creek was at 4.21 feet, about 2.5 feet below flood stage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In 2015, the creek reached nearly 20 feet, flooding out and destroying homes along the watershed.

Bill Stangler, the Congaree Riverkeeper, said flooding along the river isn’t expected to be as bad as originally forecast.

“I have not heard of any real issues around Columbia so far,’’ Stangler said Sunday.

“There has been none of the urban stream flooding we thought we might get. I’m sure there is some stuff going on in low-lying areas, but all the creeks never jumped quite as high (as feared).’’ But he said “that can change, depending how much rainfall we got overnight and through the rest of the day.’’

In Five Points, Columbia’s flood-prone entertainment district, piles of sandbags lay at the bottom of shop doors Sunday. The lights were off inside the shops. Despite the ongoing rain, fears of flooding and winds, Drip Coffee was open.

Sitting at the counter, Perry Lancaster, who manages Britton’s clothing shop just up Devine Street, said “a little rain storm” wasn’t going to stop his daily Drip visit.

“But I feel for the coast and Wilmington,” and other areas most affected by Florence, he said.

In the Irmo area, below and around the Lake Murray Dam, Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld said Sunday that, so far, homes were not affected by any rising waters. And Lexington County has closed its emergency operations center, seeing no more threat.

“But we’re keeping an eye on it,” Sonefeld said.

In 2015, more than 400 homes below or around the Lake Murray Dam were flooded out or heavily damaged by suddenly rising waters caused by a combination of SCE&G releasing water from dam and the rare, historic rainfall topped 20 inches of rain in some areas of Columbia in three days.

Reporters John Monk, Sammy Fretwell, Travis Bland, Avery Wilks and Tom Barton contributed. Jamie Self, (803) 771-8658 @jamiemself

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC