Florence County braces for possible Lynches River evacuations
EFFINGHAM, S.C. – A Thursday afternoon press conference about this weekend’s projected flooding of the Lynches River was not a call for mandatory evacuation of the areas along the river, but it was notification that county officials expect to issue such orders over the weekend and that residents should prepare to leave.
Florence County Emergency Management Division Director Dusty Owens and Florence County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Mike Nunn outlined the plans for evacuating approximately 500 families from neighborhoods along the river, which runs the length of the county from the Sumter County line to the Marion County line at the Great Pee Dee River.
It is because of the length of the river and its confluence with the Great Pee Dee that the county devised four zones along the river for evacuation purposes. Under normal circumstances it takes three days for water to flow from one end of the county to the other, Owens said.
“The [Great] Pee Dee river is currently at 30 feet, 8 inches,” Owens said. “The flood stage on the Great Pee Dee is 19 feet. We’re looking for the river to reach its crest of 31 feet probably noon tomorrow (Friday).
“The Lynches River is currently at 8 feet. Flood stage is 14. We’re looking for it to reach a crest of 17.9 approximately midnight Saturday evening. If we have a crest of 17.9, the Matthew flood was 17.76, so this is anticipated to be slightly larger event than Matthew but a slightly smaller event than the Oct. 2015 floods which was at 19.3 feet.”
Owens has said there is the possibility the river will overtop the U.S. 52 bridge and that the main north-south artery through Florence County will need to be closed.
Interstate 95, another main north-south route through Florence County, was shut down Wednesday night. South Carolina DOT officials closed the road at the Great Pee Dee River bridges on the Dillon County line and is directing traffic off the interstate at the U.S. 52 interchange.
With the Great Pee Dee running nine feet above where it was during Hurricane Matthew, it probably will cause water from the Lynches River to back up and cause additional problems around Johnsonville, Owens said.
The evacuation zones for the river are:
Zone 1 – From the U.S. 301 bridge to the U.S. 52 bridge.Zone 2 – From the U.S. 52 bridge to the U.S. 378 bridge.Zone 3 – From the U.S. 378 bridge to the S.C. 41/51 bridge that is just below Johnsonville.Zone 4 – Along the Great Pee Dee River.
“Our intent here is to evacuate zones based on the water level in each zone,” Owens said. “Instead of having the entire river evacuated, we’ll evacuate those areas endangered because of the flood.
“Ideally Zone 1 will evacuate first, then Zone 2, then Zone 3. It’s possible if the river is moving faster and the river levels are higher we might have to evacuate Zone 1 and Zone 2 at the same time. And then, likewise, as the water moves downstream, we’ll open Zone 1 for citizens to re-enter, and then Zone 2 and Zone 3.”
Owens said the county would evacuate Zone 4 if it became necessary.
The zones and expected evacuation orders are based on historic data, observations from recent storms along with input from buildings and codes enforcement officers, first responders and public works, Owens said.
“We anticipate a mandatory evacuation of all three zones sometime this weekend,” Owens said. “We’re not going to order that evacuation until we reach the point where the water becomes a threat and we need to move people out of the way.”
Once the orders are issued, four shelters will be opened for residents forced to evacuate:
Johnsonville Baptist Church.The Coward Community Center.Star Gym in Florence.Mt. Claire Missionary Baptist Church in Lake City.
“I can only imagine how hard it can be to leave your property, so I don’t intend to minimize that,” Nunn said. “And I understand that despite all our best efforts to get everyone to evacuate, there may be some who insist on staying.
“To those individuals, I say there is more danger than just rising water and property damage. Snakes and rafting fire ants, debris and many others hazards are going to be in that water as well, and that’s going to be flowing where you are.”
Conditions along the river could get to the point where emergency responders aren’t able to reach residents, and that situation could last for days.
“Waiting until conditions deteriorate to ask for a rescue also places our responders at an unnecessary risk of harm,” Nunn said. “Once the order is issued, if it is issued, leave while you can, while the conditions are good, as opposed to waiting until it becomes a true emergency.”
Evacuees should make sure to have ID that identifies their residence in the flooded areas to be able to return once the evacuation order is lifted. Residents also should take insurance documents and other vital papers, health insurance cards, prescriptions, cell phones and chargers and notify friends and family of where they will be sheltering, Nunn said.
Once the areas are evacuated, security will be provided by the sheriff’s office working with South Carolina National Guard troops.
Nunn said nobody will be allowed to return until the order is lifted, because in previous incidences homes were damaged by the wakes generated by passing boats and ATVs.
Nunn said the sheriff’s office was prepared to meet the needs of the residents and asked for their cooperation in preparing for and responding to the forecast flood.
Nunn said his agency would push out information through its app for Android and iPhones.
There also is a county information telephone hotline, Owens said: 1-866-246-0133. Residents can call and receive incident related information.