Stepping off the small boat that whisked him to safety, a soaked Davis Buchanan trudged away from the water that had flooded his neighborhood’s streets and washed into his home early Sunday.
“We’re OK, but we don’t have a place to stay now,’’ Buchanan said.
Buchanan was one of thousands of people in the Forest Acres area who felt the punch of a rainstorm that was worse than anyone can remember. A section of metropolitan Columbia known for quiet neighborhoods and busy intersections, Forest Acres was a watery mess Sunday.
Dams broke. Trees fell. Bridges washed away. Roads crumbled. The public water system faltered. And muddy, standing water made some of the most visible thoroughfares impassible.
In one case, a driver whose truck became stranded on a bridge above Forest Lake was swept into the water, where he waited hours for state rescue workers to pull him out. Residents said the man was unharmed but shaken.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, who represents the Forest Acres area, said he heard sad stories virtually all day from people affected by the storm. That was particularly tough during a week in which the town suffered the death of a police officer to an assailant’s bullet, Lourie said.
“I don’t know how a community can prepare for something like this,’’ Lourie said. “The damages, I’m sure, will be (substantial) at this point. No question about it, I think Forest Acres and Arcadia Lakes were the center of this storm, sort of ground-zero for the flood.’’
Flood waters continued to rage well into the afternoon, even as the rain subsided Sunday – and the community or more than 10,000 residents struggled to grasp the magnitude of what had just happened.
Problems arose after midnight as heavy rains poured over the Columbia area. A rain gauge near Forest Acres registered more than 16 inches of precipitation between midnight and 6 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service did not know immediately if that was a record, but it was four inches more than was registered in Five Points over the same period of time, a forecaster said.
Forest Acres appeared to be particularly affected because many of its neighborhoods are in low-lying areas along a string of lakes in the Gills Creek watershed. Many of the lakes are held back by earthen dams that were beginning to give way Sunday. At least three had failed, according to the Columbia Fire Department.
Trenholm Road, one of the busiest streets in Forest Acres, was closed from standing water and fallen trees. Part of the road in the Arcadia Lakes area near Decker Boulevard was beginning to crumble. The shoulder of the road not far from Cary Lake had washed away by early afternoon, exposing naked utility pipes.
Greg Mundy, who has lived in the area for 50 years, said he stepped out for a cup of coffee Sunday morning only to see that Trenholm Road was covered in water in front of the Forest Acres city hall.
Mundy looked grimly at the flooded, four-lane road Sunday, surveying the damage from the parking lot of the Five Guys hamburger restaurant at Trenholm Road and Forest Drive.
“It’s just one big mess,’’ he said. “It’s a terrible thing and it doesn’t seem to be letting up. It’s a lot worse than I ever imagined.’’
Many people stared in disbelief at the raging current that poured like a whitewater river over the dam between Spring Lake and Forest Lake. S.C. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster was among those on the scene Sunday afternoon.
So were Theron and Mary Ann Smith, who have lived in the area for five decades.
“It will take years to repair this,’’ said Mary Ann Smith. “It’s just so sad. This is such a beautiful area.’’
In many parts of the Forest Acres area, community residents helped each other escape the rising water.
Neighbors used jon boats to rescue other neighbors trapped by flooding near Lake Katherine. Other neighborhood residents put up tents to shelter people from the driving rain.
One tent, at the intersection of Carter Hill and Woodlake drives, shielded the residents of a nearby group home for the elderly from the elements. One of the home’s residents was wrapped in a blanket and crying when rescue boats pulled them to safety, residents said.
“Anything we can do for anybody, we’re glad to,’’ said Margaret Bauer, who was helping with the effort.
Woodlake Drive, just off Trenholm Road, resembled a canal, as did many connecting streets that were overwhelmed by flood waters. Between two houses on Carter Hill, only the rooftop of a car was visible above the brown water.
Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, Buchanan said he’s not sure what his next step will be. He said he doesn’t have flood insurance.
“Our house will probably be a total loss,’’ he said.
Clay Lovelace, who lives on Shady Lane, carried his golden retriever from a neighbor’s rescue boat as his wife clutched their 7-month old child. He said he began to notice water rising early Sunday morning and decided to not take any chances, even though his house was not flooded when the family left.
“The water was coming no matter what,’’ he said. “Sand bags were not going to help. I kept counting the bricks on my mail box, and the water was going up at two bricks per hour.’’
Kitty Weiland said her home is on a hill and her family is safe, but water down hill had cut off their section of the neighborhood. She said a children’s swing set, trash cans, porch furniture and other items from homes were washing down some flooded streets in the area near Shady Lane and Woodlake.
“I just saw a family two doors down from a stop sign, with two little babies, they were just rescued,’’ Weiland said Sunday morning.
She said neighbors are doing their best to help each other.
“We walked down the hill and said ‘Oh my gosh, this is a catastrophe. We’ve got to pitch in and help.’’’
Lourie said Forest Acres has a long road to recovery.
“The community will rebound, but it will take a lot of hard work and community involvement,’’ he said.