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Florence County recovers, supports and floods following Hurricane Florence

September 20, 2018
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A shot of the Great Pee Dee River off of US 76 at the Florence/Marion County line Wednesday afternoon.

EFFINGHAM, S.C. – Florence County is working on mitigation, recovery and support all at the same time in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

When it comes to mitigation, residents along Black Creek evacuated ahead of a record crest Monday for the stream at 17.37 feet. The previous record was 16.8 feet, according to a hydrological report from the National Weather Service. The creek is forecast to fall during the day Wednesday before rising to a second crest at 16 feet on Friday before falling into a minor flood stage about noon Saturday.

Noon Saturday is when the Lynches River is expected to hit moderate flood levels on its way to a major flood crest at 18.1 feet overnight Saturday through noon Sunday before starting to fall Sunday evening into Monday.

Florence County Emergency Management Division officials issued a bulletin Wednesday afternoon that called on residents along Lynches River to prepare to evacuate should the need arise.

Florence County Emergency Management Division Director Dusty Owens said there was the possibility that as the crest approached, there could be a mandatory evacuation order issued for communities near the river.

If the river hits its forecast level of 18 feet, “extensive flooding will occur,” according to a hydrological report on the river and its forecast crest.

Such a crest would threaten the U.S. 52 crossing of the river between Effingham and Coward.

“That is a very real possibility,” Owens said. “U.S. 52 was over-crested in previous events, and we’re looking at similar water levels. In the past events it was only closed for the maximum of 36 hours before water subsided enough that we could reopen the road.”

Levi James, a spokesman for the division, said officials were coordinating with agencies along the river to ensure resources were ready if they are needed.

Such resources were put to use in neighborhoods along Black Creek, said Florence County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Mike Nunn.

“Some of the equipment we’ve been able to obtain under the 1033 program [that allows local government access to surplus military equipment] has proven itself again to be of tremendous benefit to the citizens of Florence County,” Nunn said. “Obviously this equipment is not used on a routine basis, but when it’s necessary, there’s not much else that will do.

“We went into Black Creek with the MRAP and Humvees that we would not have been able to go in with any conventional vehicle we know of,” Nunn said. “We rescued several people who wanted out. The MRAP was a part of that.”

Nunn said eventually deputies had to park the MRAP over concerns about the road and, at that point, started to use boats for evacuations.

The same equipment will be on standby for residents along the Lynches River, the flooding of which is expected to impact neighborhoods near Lynches River County Park, U.S. 52, New Hope and Effingham as well as The Neck near Johnsonville.

“Hopefully people in those affected areas will take measures before it gets to a critical point to evacuate or secure their properties,” Nunn said. “Whatever is necessary.”

Support and recovery mode

Several ongoing relief and support efforts are working out of Florence County with outreach to affected neighboring counties.

The Florence Corps of the Salvation Army is the headquarters is a hub for canteen truck operations and meal distribution throughout the affected counties.

Heather Steverson with the Florence Corps said officers, enlisted and volunteers are working to deliver and serve meals both at shelters and to agencies and their members who have responded to support flooded and hard hit areas.

The Army, as of Tuesday, had served 53,644 meals and 49,932 drinks, worked 25,554 hours that include both employees and volunteers and provided 3,438 hours of emotional and spiritual care.

The Army also has established a distribution warehouse near the interstate in Florence.

The Florence County Sheriff’s Office is serving as a local collection point for a relief effort headed up by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Association (SCLEOA) in association with Serve and Connect, which have partnered to collect supplies for South Carolina victims of Hurricane Florence.

These drop-off locations will receive items – including bottled water, non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items – for distribution to victims of the Hurricane.

“We are proud to partner with SCLEOA and the SC Police Chiefs Association to be a drop-off location for these much needed supplies for those effected in our area,” Sheriff Kenney Boone said. “Donated items can be delivered to the Florence County Law Enforcement Center located at 6719 Friendfield Road, Effingham, and we urge Florence County residents to reach out to help those less fortunate.”

Of special need are cleaning supplies, nonperishable food items, bottled water, mops, buckets and personal hygiene items, Nunn said.

“We’re grateful that Florence County was spared the full force and effect of the hurricane,” Nunn said. “That’s not to minimize the problems or damage that Florence County residents experienced, and some of it very real. We’re hoping to help with that relief in the days to come.

“All we need to do is look around at neighboring counties to see we could have had it a lot worse.”

On Wednesday, Florence County Emergency Management officials were out at the county’s fairgrounds on U.S. 76 east of Florence working to establish a rescue shelter for pets, James said.

“We have some specialized animal teams coming from Charleston to assist with that today,” James said.

Such a shelter would serve the residents of Dillon, Horry, Florence, Marion and Marlboro counties who have been hit by hard by Hurricane Florence and the water it dumped on the Pee Dee.

Nunn said that the sheriff’s office and emergency management division worked to deliver needed radios to Dillon County, which requested the assistance.

Those radios, because of road conditions, were delivered by the sheriff’s office’s MRAP, Nunn said.

Two Florence County fire departments – Howe Springs and Sardis-Timmonsville – sent engine crews to Darlington County to stand by at their headquarters station on Center Road between Darlington and Hartsville to provide some relief to Darlington County firefighters, said Sam Brockington, fire services coordinator for Florence County.

The county also sent two fire chiefs who also are trained incident commanders – Windy Hill Fire Chief John DeLung and Howe Springs Fire Chief William Dillon – to Dillon County to help there, Brockington said.

Road and river conditions

Interstate 95 was briefly reopened in both directions throughout the state. The road, the main north-south artery along the East Coast, was closed from the US 52 exit north into Dillon County as a result of the Great Pee Dee River flooding, according to the SCDOT Website. It is also closed in many locations in eastern North Carolina.

Marlboro County had a list of road closings that was, by far, the longest of all Pee Dee counties, according to the SCDOT’s Website. Dillon and Marion counties also had long lists of closed roads. All closings, both primary and secondary, seemed to be associated with the impacts of Hurricane Florence.

Work to keep the U.S. 378/U.S. 501 corridor open from Lake City to Myrtle Beach continued with barriers, plastic sheeting and large sandbags. Portions of Florence County U.S. 378 east of Lake City were down to one lane in either direction because of the barriers.

The U.S. 378/U.S. 501 corridor is considered the one easiest to defend from rising waters, Owens said. The Florence County portion of the project is set to protect against floodwaters from the Lynches River, which should not threaten the road even if it hits its expected crest, Owens said.

The Horry County end of the project is to protect the road from the rapidly rising Waccamaw River, which is forecast to fall through Thursday before it rises again with a crest forecast to exceed its previous record by 2 to 3 feet next week, according to the National Weather Service. At that level, the river could threaten the U.S. 501 bypass in Conway.

In Horry County, U.S. 501, U.S. 701, S.C. 9 and S.C. 905 had at least one location that was closed to traffic because of high water or, in the case of US 501, by the construction project aimed at keeping the road open and safe from rising water.

Rivers around the northern Marion County community of Nichols continued to rise.

The Lumber River upstream from Nichols by Wednesday afternoon had hit almost 30 feet, while the Little Pee Dee River downstream from Nichols hit 54 feet at the same time. Both gauges showed dramatic rise but lacked the historic data necessary to predict a crest, and they did not indicate at what level the rivers, which converge south of Nichols and flow along either side of the community, enter flood stage.

During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the community suffered devastating floods.

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