The Coldstream neighborhood near Irmo was Ground Zero in the flooding that occurred across Lexington County.
“These (neighborhoods) absolutely are the hardest hit area of the county,” County Administrator Joe Mergo said.
About 400 homes in the Irmo and St. Andrews areas are damaged, Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld estimated.
The damage rivals that in other parts of the Columbia area but has been noticed less, as flooding isolated the neighborhoods until now.
Flooding in Coldstream occurred when water released into the lower Saluda River to keep Lake Murray a mile upstream from getting too full then backed up into Rawls Creek, Mergo said.
“People went to bed looking at thunderstorms,” Sonefeld said. “Nobody was expecting anything of this magnitude.”
His firefighters rescued 87 people in its 28-square-mile service area Sunday. About two-thirds of those occurred in Coldstream, a hilly area crisscrossed by creeks.
“That 10 hours was a nightmare,” Sonefeld said.
Firefighters and deputies also train to rescue boaters on the river, experience that helped Sunday.
Firefighters often went out to help singly instead of in teams, Sonefeld said.
“It’s not a good way to do it, but when you’ve got grandparents holding babies calling for help ...,” he said, his voice trailing off.
‘You’ve got grandparents holding babies calling for help.’
Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld
The rush to help was complicated by calls from panicky homeowners after seeing what happened to others nearby even if their own homes weren’t in danger. “We know our trouble spots,” Sonefeld said of how he made his decisions about where to deploy.
Homeowners such as Sharon Funderburk are busy coping with the aftermath.
She moved into a new home two weeks ago and made friends with new neighbors Thursday as they pitched in to help her clean up damage.
“I really didn’t know them until now,” she said.
Funderburk’s family bought their home after a pre-purchase check said it wasn’t in a flood-prone area even though it in on a pond fed by the creek, she said.
A few hours before dawn Sunday, she was irked when a vehicle drove her street sounding its horn repeatedly. “I was annoyed at first – and grateful later,” Funderburk said.
When she looked out the window, she saw her yard flooding and quickly moved her car up the street to higher ground after packing it with two dogs and a bag of clothing.
She went back to rouse her next-door neighbor, then waded back to her car in chest-deep water as firefighters and deputies with canoes and jonboats arrived to rescue residents.
Now, volunteers from church and civic groups are busy tearing out muddy floors and walls after three feet of water filled Funderburk’s home. The waters left sediment in the swimming pool and knocked the air-conditioner off its slab.
Piles of debris in the neighborhood “are as big as my fire trucks,” Sonefeld said. County officials are preparing to remove those mounds shortly, Mergo said.
Piles of debris in Coldstream ‘are as big as my fire trucks.’
Irmo Fire Chief Mike Sonefeld
Some residents remained evacuated on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Funderburk’s family returned to its unsold home a few miles away that went through the deluge unscathed despite minor flooding in the past.
It’s urban camping – sleeping on floors with no furniture while facing an uncertain future.
“For now,” Funderburk said, “it’s what we have to do.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483