Justin Brown said flood waters were chest high and rising swiftly when he, his dog and roommates made their escape Sunday.
“We looked out the back window, and we could see the lake in the back overflowing over the fence,” said Brown, who returned Monday to his apartment, located on Tall Pines Road in a low-lying area near Gills Creek and South Beltline Boulevard
“By a matter of 10 or 15 minutes, it was in the back, coming through the back door, rising up the stairs. ... It took us awhile to get through the water.”
As Brown and his neighbors salvaged belongings and surveyed the damage Monday, they watched as a search-and-rescue team went door-to-door, making contact with residents, handing out water bottles and looking for any victims of the heavy rains that left swaths of Columbia underwater Sunday.
State and local law enforcement, fire officials, military, state agencies and first responders from outside South Carolina started the search efforts Monday morning.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a news conference Monday that the plan was to search all of Richland County and Columbia grid-by-grid.
Search operations will resume Tuesday.
On Tall Pines, the search-and-rescue team had a boat for searching heavily flooded areas. The team quickly covered the block where Brown lives, spray-painting doors of checked residences with bright orange Xs.
Nearby, residents were sifting through their belongings, carting trash to the dumpster and carrying salvaged belongings out of their homes. Some residents had their doors open. Inside one apartment, a soaked couch sat turned up on its end. The resident complained of not being able to close the waterlogged door.
As he was leaving with a laundry bag full of clothes and belongings, Joe Morris said he and his wife had to climb a fence and lift their young daughters to safety early Sunday morning.
“We weren’t able to go out the front door. The water was already up. At that moment, we had to get what we could get in our hands and bail out.”
Farther north along Gills Creek, in the Shandon Crossing apartment complex, a distraught Renie Goodwin returned to her apartment to find damage from the flood and uninvited guests.
Sometime overnight, looters had pried her door open and stolen her televisions and other valuables.
On Monday, Goodwin assessed what she had lost while standing in a parking space where her car had been parked before the flood waters lifted it and carried it into the grass outside her front door.
She said she had never experienced anything like it before. She was alone Sunday – her husband was at work – when the water rose into her bedroom. When the water reached her calf, she called her son, Stephen Caughman, to come get her.
“Water started coming real fast, and I panicked real fast.”
Caughman, who was helping his mother and father salvage their belongings Monday, recalled saying over the phone to his mother the night before, “ ‘Hold your breath and ask the Lord to guide you with your legs.’ ”
Resident Milton Lewis was patrolling the Shandon Crossing neighborhood Monday, having run off a looter trying to break in his neighbor’s home.
Lewis said he wanted to do what he could to protect his neighbors.
“I’m one old person,” he said. “(But) I can’t stand it. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658