Record rainfall turned normally quiet Gills Creek into a roaring river on Sunday, flooding streets around Devine Street and Rosewood Drive, damaging dozens of businesses and homes, and forcing emergency crews to rescue apartment dwellers.
The water flooded businesses around the new Rosewood Crossing shopping center and submerged several cars. No injuries were reported.
“Everybody got hit hard anywhere along the creek,” Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah said.
Traffic was rerouted as thoroughfares such as Devine Street, Rosewood Drive and Fort Jackson Boulevard were under several feet of water.
Ian Glander spent his 26th birthday evacuating his Shandon Crossing apartment off South Beltline Boulevard when water suddenly started flowing into it. “I wasn’t planning on doing anything special, but this is a helluva way to celebrate,” the University of South Carolina graduate student said.
Still, Glander smiled as fellow residents in the half-flooded complex brought towels for him to dry off with and food for his cat. “Disaster brings neighbors together,” he said.
Glander’s car remained under water, but he said that problem could wait until after he obtained temporary shelter through the American Red Cross.
Michael Ronan, another resident of the complex, was stunned when he woke up and discovered the flooding. He went to bed late Saturday unconcerned about the forecast, which called for several inches of rain. “It just came up so quickly,” he said.
Several residents in the Shandon Crossing and Woodland Terrace apartment complexes off South Beltline Bouelvard were rescued by boat, according to Brick Lewis, spokesman for the Columbia Fire Department.
A few blocks away, homeowner Melanie Trimble voluntarily directed traffic off Rosewood near the Midlands Technical College campus after police officers left suddenly to respond to multiple calls for help.
“If you can stop people from driving into several feet of water, you should do that,” she said.
Trimble assumed the role of unofficial traffic cop for 20 minutes after arriving to check out swiftly flowing water in the creek that forced her neighbors on Beecliff Drive to leave their homes.
Several stores in the Rosewood Crossing at Devine and Rosewood were flooded just a few months after the renovated shopping center opened. Officials at the center’s Chattanooga-based owner, Fletcher Bright Co., couldn’t be reached for comment.
Others on nearby Gills Creek Parkway were wondering if their businesses escaped that fate after seeing pictures on social media that showed water pouring off Rosewood Drive.
“At first I was just devastated, but there is hope for some of us,” Columbia Ballet School owner Anita Ashley said.
Neighborhoods on side streets off Beltline also were divided by the flooded creek, with water in some homes. The flooding also extended to some homes in the Hampton Old Woodlands neighborhood near the Target store on Garners Ferry Road.
Flooding on the creek and its tributaries typically isn’t a problem, because it usually sends water into undeveloped sections that back up when the Congaree River is high, said Tim Kana, a coastal geologist who lives on Lake Katharine.
But water this time came from everywhere at once – particularly at its upper reaches – and was too much to handle, he said.
The flood damage is the nightmare that leaders of the Gills Creek Watershed Association worried would occur. Too much building has been allowed along the streams, the group says.
“There are structures built in places where they shouldn’t be,” association executive director Erich Miarka said. “That’s something we’ve been concerned about for a long time.”
The watershed includes 70 miles of creeks and streams in 47,000 acres stretching across Dentsville, Arcadia Lakes, Forest Acres, Columbia and Rosewood into the Congaree River, according to the association’s website.
Local officials should look at preventing a recurrence by buying structures selectively and working with owners to move to new locations that are not flood-prone, Miarka said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483