Lynches River heads for Saturday crest, residents evacuate

September 22, 2018

EFFINGHAM, S.C. – On Thursday afternoon, Florence County leaders said they probably would call for the mandatory evacuation of neighborhoods along Lynches River in Florence County.

On Friday morning, they did. Friday afternoon they did again.

At 8:20 a.m., Florence County Emergency Management Division officials sent out the official notification of the evacuation of Zone 1 residents from along Lynches River and, at the same time, announced the opening of shelters.

At 1:10 p.m. the notice to evacuate Zone 2 went out.

Four shelters are open:

Johnsonville First Baptist Church, 145 North Georgetown Hwy, Johnsonville.Coward Community Center, 109 East Friendfield Road, Coward.STARS Gym, 1409 South Church Street, Florence.Mt. Clair Missionary Baptist Church, 1009 East Main Street, Lake City.

As the evacuation orders were issued, Florence County firefighters from the Olanta, Howe Springs, South Lynches, Hannah-Salem-Friendfield and Johnsonville fire departments were either in the field encouraging people to evacuate, helping people evacuate or prepared to do so.

They were joined by Florence County Sheriff’s deputies and troops with the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard working out of command posts situated along the river.

Howe Springs Fire Chief William Dillon, who had been working in an incident-commander role Friday morning in Dillon County, was running the command post for Zone 1 – neighborhoods upriver from the U.S. 52 bridge – at the department’s Cusac Crossroads’ station. Several miles east of the station at Elim Baptist Church, the sheriff’s office and national guards had set up their headquarters.

Outside the Cusac Crossroads fire station, three boats sat on trailers, ready for action if needed.

Dillon said that evacuations had started earlier than planned, not because the river was rising quicker than expected but because it started rising earlier than expected.

Out of the fire station, Dillon was working with firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and guardsmen in the field who were driving through neighborhoods that either were flooding or were on the verge of it, notifying residents and checking on homes that were already evacuated.

Up the road, the sheriff’s office had its MRAP on hand along with a Guard 6x6 truck. The department’s Humvees were in the field, making the rounds.

As he patrolled Zone 1, Howe Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Bennett pointed to one home that was already surrounded by water and noted that 15 minutes earlier the home’s driveway, to a point, had been dry. At that point it had water flowing across it.

At several points Bennett pointed out creeks that flowed backward as water from the Lynches River backed up into the creek rather than the creek flowing into the river.

Radio traffic flowed freely as units in the field coordinated with each other about which houses had been checked, which hadn’t, which residents were leaving and which had indicated they would stay.

Bennett said he hoped people would evacuate while it was daylight and not wait until dark and then decide to leave but need a rescue from firefighters, deputies, guardsmen or all three to make that happen.

As he drove down it, Fork Road had water on it but wasn’t yet completely submerged.

McAllister Mill Road’s bridge had water flowing across it, and the road around it had been closed and barricaded.

Bennett checked the U.S. 52 bridge and the river landing at the bridge that remained high and dry – for the time being. He took a cell phone shot of a pole and emailed it to the command post to serve as a marker for the next check of the river at the bridge. Shortly after noon, the pole was dry. The next check it might not be.

At approximately 1 p.m., a truck loaded with highway barricades and orange barrels headed down U.S. 301 toward Cusac Crossroads.

Florence County Emergency Management Division Director Dusty Owens said there was the distinct possibility the projected crest of the Lynches River at 17.9 feet would be high enough to top the bridge and close U.S. 52 – one of the primary north-south routes through Florence County.

In Zone 2 – neighborhoods downstream from the U.S. 52 bridge to the U.S. 378 bridge – similar activities coordinated by South Lynches Fire Department were taking place.

The story would be the same for Zone 3 – neighborhoods downstream from the U.S. 378 bridge to the S.C. 41/51 bridge.

Across the river at Lynches River County Park, residents pulled into the parking lot at the canoe launch and grabbed cell phone shots of the rapidly rising river. One person, wearing flip-flops, did a fire ant dance as the invasive, and painful, pests sought to escape the rising waters.

Shortly before noon, the river had submerged the entire launch as well as portions of the park’s boardwalk.

Park workers in the Environmental Discovery Center said they weren’t worried about the building; it had remained dry throughout both the floods of 2015 and 2016. Since this was happening earlier in the year than the past two flooding events, the reptiles, which had to be evacuated to warmer quarters in 2016, were expected to be fine in the warmer late-September weather.

The park’s trails, though, could be another thing. The park had just cleaned up debris and reopened following the passage of Hurricane Florence.

Pets and mosquitoes

For the past 10 days, during the initial passage of Hurricane Florence and as residents along the Lynches River evacuate and residents along Black Creek prepare to return home, the Florence County Environmental Service’s shelter at Effingham has been a home-away-from home for pets whose people had to evacuate.

Herbie Christmas, who heads the Florence County Environmental Services agency, said the facility had sheltered 29 dogs and eight cats as of last count. That was before residents along Lynches River had a chance to see about getting their pets a safe place to ride out the flood.

On Sept. 12, two days before the storm’s arrival, a rescue organization, Lucky Dog, emptied the shelter of dogs to free up space for Florence County residents to bring their pets, Christmas said.

That evacuation, which ended up broken down briefly by the side of a road in Virginia, ultimately worked out well for all dogs concerned, Christmas said. More than 50 people turned out to help with the dogs in the broken-down van while three “passersby” diagnosed the van’s problem and fixed it free of charge to get the pets back on the road, Christmas said.

While his department is working to show hospitality to displaced pets, it is also prepared to give a less-than-warm welcome to some unwanted pests: mosquitoes.

Seven to 10 days after the water recedes from flooded areas, Christmas said there is the possibility there would be a mosquito problem.

“Black Creek’s probably going to be first on our agenda, because that one crested yesterday and it’s beginning to fall,” Christmas said.

The weather, though, might be in the county’s favor on the mosquito front – sort of.

“The lower the temperatures are, especially at night, the less likely we’re going to have a major hatch off,” Christmas said. “Kind of a double-edge sword. Our product doesn’t work very well much below 68 degrees. If it gets down to 60 degrees at night, it is kind of fruitless for us to do a spray application.”

Christmas said the county this year has recorded one case of human-born West Nile virus and one avian case as well.

From an equipment standpoint, though, the timing is perfect.

Christmas said his agency just finished tuning up its four truck-mounted sprayers to ensure they were operating at top efficiency and within Clemson regulations. The trucks are also GPS equipped and log what they spray, how much they spray and where they spray, he said.

The rivers

The Lynches River is forecast to be well above flood stage by Friday evening and to rapidly rise overnight and throughout the morning Saturday to a forecast crest of 17.9 feet Saturday afternoon at Effingham.

It is forecast to recede and to be out of flood stage by about noon Monday, according to the National Weather Service’s hydrological website for the river.

Owens said the Lynches River crest is expected to take some time to move between Effingham and Johnsonville and, upon arrival, it could pile up around The Neck in Johnsonville as it waits for the Great Pee Dee River to recede.

The Great Pee Dee River at Cheraw is already falling and is forecast to crest at Pee Dee on Friday afternoon before gradually falling through the weekend and into early next week.

The Great Pee Dee River at Interstate 95 crested at 61 feet overnight Thursday into Friday morning and was gradually receding Friday afternoon.

Interstate 95, which had been closed at the Great Pee Dee River bridges, reopened to traffic northbound and southbound at 4 p.m. Friday, though many areas of the route remained closed just across the North Carolina line.

Black Creek at Quinby by Friday afternoon had fallen to minor flood stage and was expected to continue to recede throughout the week until it was just barely at minor flood stage by Wednesday.

Update hourly