SC dam breached in flooding, mandatory evacuation ordered
South Carolina authorities ordered the mandatory evacuation of a neighborhood near Columbia Monday after a dam was breached following widespread flooding that left at least nine dead.
Authorities ordered an evacuation of the Overcreek neighborhood northeast of Columbia after the Overcreek Bridge dam was breached by floodwaters.
Robert Yanity, spokesman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control, said a dam along Rockyford Lake burst around 2 p.m.
He added authorities also were concerned about two other dams that may breach in the same area, although they would be covered by the same evacuation order already issued.
The Forest Lake Police Department was evacuating residents downstream from the Overcreek dam, and relocating them to emergency shelters, Richland County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Curtis Wilson told The State newspaper.
Families began trickling into AC Flora High School where an emergency shelter was set up.
Officials in Columbia also initiated a mandatory curfew for 7 p.m. Monday through 6 a.m. Tuesday, The State reported.
Later Monday evening, President Barack Obama signed a Major Disaster Declaration, ordering Federal aid “to supplement state and local recovery efforts.”
“The President's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland, and Williamsburg,” the declaration said.
At least nine people have died and hundreds more have been rescued in the wake of heavy rains and massive flooding.
Gov. Nikki Haley told a news conference that one of the biggest challenges is getting clean drinking water to 40,000 people who currently don't have it.
"We have quite a few water issues," Haley said. "Either people are without water or contaminated water."
Four water distribution sites were being set up in Richland County on Monday and six more will be installed throughout the state on Tuesday. Walmart has donated 80,000 bottles of water.
Haley said Obama called her Monday morning to express his concern and offer assistance.
"This is gonna be a process," she said. "This is gonna be a long process."
With the worst appearing to be behind them, Haley described just how devastating the storm has been. Of the nine people who died, five drowned and four were killed in traffic accidents. First responders have received 2,679 calls for service, including 910 collisions. National Guard troops have performed 25 aerial rescues.
"What I can tell you is we're stronger today than we were yesterday," Haley said. "Our angels continue to be our first responders."
Those "angels" include 253 troopers patrolling treacherous roads and the 1,300 National Guard troops deployed throughout the state. Haley said 7,000 more troops remained on alert.
The National Weather Service said Sunday was the wettest day in the history of Columbia, with the rainfall total at the Metropolitan Airport coming in at a record 6.87 inches. The two-day rainfall total for Saturday and Sunday was 10.44 inches and, since Friday, more than 20 inches have fallen in some parts. The fast-moving floodwaters have buckled buildings and roads, closed a 75-mile stretch of Interstate 95, and threatened the drinking water supply for the state's capital city.
Haley said earlier Monday morning that 381 roads were closed, 127 bridges were down and more than two dozen shelters were open. Over 1,000 law enforcement personnel and 1,000 transportation department workers were on duty. Utility crews were still trying to restore service to 30,000 customers.
Haley said most people have heeded her plea to stay off the roads.
"I think they get it," she said. "All you have to do is look out the window and see the flooding. It doesn't take long for you to get in your car and realize you've got to turn back around."
She had previously described the deadly flood waters in her state as being at "a thousand-year level."
"This is different than a hurricane because it is water, it is slow moving and it is sitting. We can't just move the water out," Haley said.
The system drenching South Carolina was part of an unusual combination of weather conditions involving a slow-crawling low pressure system meteorologists called unusually deep for this time of year.
Local officials counted several hundred water rescues by mid-morning before Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said in an interview that there were too many rescues to keep count.
"We're just trying to get to everyone," Jenkins said. "But there are places we just haven't gotten to."
State forecasters said another 2-6 inches could fall around the state, and it could be Tuesday before skies are sunny.
Vladimir Gorrin said he led his 57-year-old aunt through floodwaters about 7 feet deep surrounding her apartment near Gills Creek. He said his aunt, Wanda Laboy, waited several hours after calling 911, so family came to help.
"She's very distressed right now," said Gorrin, 38. "She lost everything."
His aunt, who didn't appear to be injured, was heading with her nephew to his house in an unflooded area of Columbia, he said.
"I'm trying to find my way back home, and every road that we've taken is blocked or flooded," he said in a phone interview.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said he's never seen flooding as bad in his 40 years as mayor.
"This was a record storm," he said. "You know the amount of rainfall that we have experienced is unprecedented. I feel very fortunate that we were able to get through this as well as we have."
In Florence, about 80 miles east of Columbia, Mary Gainey was told Sunday about an evacuation order for her neighborhood along a rising creek. "I've been rushing around, making sure I have everything I need," said the 65-year-old Gainey.
She's going to stay at her daughter's house until the water recedes.
"This is the first time we've had to be evacuated," she said. "It's strange leaving everything behind."
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says anyone who doesn't take the flooding seriously risks not only their lives, but the lives of first responders. He says flooding levels are difficult enough to judge in the daytime.
Several schools and colleges, including the University of South Carolina, canceled classes Monday and some businesses planned to remained closed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report