It could take until the weekend for the threat of flooding to ease in storm-tattered South Carolina, where a senator warned of a potential billion-dollar cleanup bill.
Rivers rose and dams bulged as storm water from days of heavy rains made its way to the Atlantic Ocean, causing a second round of flooding downstream.
Gov. Nikki Haley paid a visit to the coast, which she said still would be in danger for another 24-48 hours. “We’re holding our breath and saying a prayer.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham warned the disaster could “break the bank” of federal emergency funds, possibly topping more than $1 billion.
In another image of the storm’s otherworldly toll, state officials said caskets have popped out of the ground in 11 instances in six counties.
Haley said 62 dams across the state were being monitored, and 13 already had failed. However, she said South Carolina was fortunate that those represented only a small fraction of 2,000 or so dams regulated by the state.
At a news conference, Haley and other officials were asked repeatedly whether the state had spent enough in previous years to maintain dams and other infrastructure.
“I think the analysis of this can be done after” the danger from the floods passes, she said in one testy response.
Graham said the federal lifeline must be treated with care to avoid a “pork-laden monstrosity” like the federal government’s aid package to the Northeast Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He warned state and county officials not to use the disaster as an opportunity to ask for money unrelated to flood damage.
He also said it would take weeks to get a reliable damage assessment.
“We’re talking hundreds of millions (of dollars), maybe over a billion,” he said while visiting a shelter in Columbia.
Along the coast, residents prepared Wednesday for a second round of flooding as rivers swollen from days of devastating rains make their way toward the Atlantic.
In coastal Georgetown, one of America’s oldest cities, Scott Youngblood put more sandbags by the door of the Augustus & Carolina furniture store on Front Street, the popular tourist attraction that runs along the Sampit River.
Each day since last weekend’s storm – which sent more than a foot of water washing down the street – water at high tide has lapped against those sandbags. Residents worried there may be more flooding on the Black and Waccamaw rivers. Both drain into Georgetown County.
The Waccamaw was expected to crest at 5 feet above flood stage in Conway, in Horry County, on Thursday. The Black crested Tuesday upstream at Kingstree at about 10 feet above flood stage, breaking a record, town officials said.
Youngblood hopes things won’t be as bad as earlier in the week.
“We’re hanging our hat on that we’re not going to have that combination of tide and rain and such,” he said. “We had so much rain, but the primary thing we were experiencing was the water table coming up through the bottom bubbling up from beneath the flooring. We had quite a bit of damage.”
Meanwhile, long-distance drivers on Interstate 95, one of the East Coast’s busiest highways, were being re-routed for a fourth day Wednesday because a nearly 15-mile stretch of the interstate remained closed.
Some 30,000 cars and trucks usually travel on I-95 between Interstates 20 and 26 each day, a stretch of about 74 miles. But drivers who want to go straight through can’t because of ongoing flooding, so they’re having to take a massive detour.
A historic storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of rain onto central South Carolina last weekend left the Black and Pocotaligo rivers overflowing with fast-moving water, meaning inspectors haven’t been able to eyeball the underside of bridges over the waterways, state Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Poore said.
The soonest the rivers will recede enough to allow inspectors to scout the situation will be Wednesday afternoon, though it could take until Thursday, Poore said. How soon the bridges are cleared and the interstate opens fully then depends on what inspectors find.
The fact part of the highway closeure means long-distance traffic is being detoured 168 miles, onto I-20 and I-26.