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Hurricane Florence cripples Marion County in street flooding

September 18, 2018
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Street flooding on a portion of US 76 in Marion near Market Drive as a result of Hurricane Florence on September 16, 2018.

NICHOLS, S.C. – Marion County officials spent the weekend dealing with widespread street flooding as a result of Hurricane Florence.

They will spend this week coping with rising rivers that threaten devastation in Nichols for the second time in the past two years.

Nichols Mayor Lawson Battle said he is sitting and waiting on the latest in a community that was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“The Little Pee Dee River is rising very fast, and the Lumber River is rising as well,” he said. “We’re trying to get the last few people to leave, and we’re expecting flooding comparable of Hurricane Matthew and potentially a little higher. “

The Little Pee Dee River could reach another 100-year flood stage.

The Little Pee Dee River near Galivants Ferry was at 9.32 feet on Monday, and it is expected to rise to 15.4 feet by Friday. The Great Pee Dee River was at 19.83 feet, and it is expected to reach 29 feet Saturday. Both forecast to reach major flood levels.

According to National Weather Service hydrologist Rick Neuherz, flood waters will affect 30 to 40 homes in the Fork Retch community near Nichols, and swampland flooding will increase.

Utility crews have already cut off the power in Nichols, and the South Carolina National Guard is staged in town.

“I’ve got National Guard, Department of Natural Resources and Marion County Sheriff’s Office here to help,” Battle said.

Nichols native Billy Floyd, now the division chief for the North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety, has 22 years of experience in fire and rescue. Despite spending hours working during the storm, he remains concerned for his hometown and doing what he can to help others.

“My dad still lives there,” he said. “We went through this in 2016 with Hurricane Matthew, and he just finally got back into house in February of this year. It took almost 15 months to get him back in his house, and here we are getting ready to lose it again.”

Floyd doesn’t think he can watch his family go through a third rebuilding process.

“I’m not ready to go through this again,” he said.

Floyd said the town took a hard hit and hasn’t had time to bounce back in recovery.

“So many people are still in the rebuilding process,” he said. “Homes are still being rebuilt and worked on, and people just getting back into homes this year now are turning around and losing it all again. So that doesn’t bode well for the confidence and hope of a lot people that want to stick it out there.”

Floyd’s advice to residents is to pay attention to what emergency management officials are saying and stay off the roads.

“I was out in Loris all night doing water rescues from vehicles and homes,” he said. “Don’t be out in the road if you don’t have to be. The best thing to do is stay out of the way and wait until the all clear comes to try and move back in.”

As Nichols prepares, the rest of the county recovers. Some roadways began to clear Monday.

Up to 24 inches of rain fell in Marion, according to Marion County Administrator Tim Harper. U.S. 501 was closed at U.S. 76, forcing travelers to the beach to take U.S. 301 at the Marion County and Florence County line to SC 38 east.

Harper said the Emergency Operations Center remained fully operational along with three shelters in the county.

“We’re at that phase where the winds are gone and the major rain is gone, but we’re at the point that we’re starting to see the rivers rise,” Harper said. “Some roads are opening back up, but then we turn around and have to close some roads because the river is rising and flooding.”

Harper said more than 170 people remain at shelters, which will be open possibly for another three days.

Officials are working on transitioning the shelters from Marion High School, Creek Bridge High School and Palmetto Middle School to allow the schools to reopen so students can get back to class.

“We moved the one at Palmetto Middle School over to the Mullins Recreation Center on Park Street,” Harper said. “We will be moving the one from Marion High School to either A.C. Tollison or the Shannon Wilkerson Gym, and then at some point we will probably be moving the one at Creek Bridge over to the W.R. Saffold Building.”

Marion City Administrator Allen Ammons said street flooding was a big problem, forcing many roads to be closed.

“We’re in pretty good shape, but we have some rising water along Cat Fish Canal,” he said. “Most of the localized flooding is receding now.”

Ammons said the Marion Fire Department evacuated more than 100 people during the storm.

Mullins Mayor William “Bo” McMillan said the city is doing fairly well.

“The waters subsided a great deal,” he said following a ride through town with Marion County Sheriff Brian Wallace. “Things are looking a lot better, and we’re actually going ahead with plans for our Golden Leaf Festival and annual Barbecue Cook-off this weekend. People need something to look forward to.”

McMillan said the city experienced street flooding on par with Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“To me it was worse than Hurricane Matthew two years ago, but we cleaned the drains and had the street-sweeper out, and I think that made a great deal of difference,” he said.

Making another big difference was the assistance of the Pickens County Swift Water Response Team that helped the Mullins Fire Department evacuate 166 people to safety Saturday and Sunday as parts of the city flooded so badly that residents had to move from their homes and cars stranded on the road.

Portions of U.S. 76 between Marion and Mullins were impassable and covered in more than two feet of water.

Team leader Robert Porter said the group of 10 members arrived Friday.

“We’re here at the request of the Marion County EOC to assist the Mullins Fire Department with providing additional water resources and equipment,” he said. “So up until this point, whenever the fire department had a call related to water coming up on people and they wanted to leave, we helped assist with that, and folks that decided to drive through flooded streets and their car became disabled, we rescued them. We call them rescues, but they’re really evacuations when the rain bands came in heavy.”

Porter said the team’s attention turns to helping residents living along river banks and patrolling flooded roads.

“The first time we were here was during Hurricane Matthew,” Porter said. “When the town of Nichols had that sudden emergency evacuation, we were the folks that came and did it before the Nation Guard was able to get there during the daytime. All of those rescues during the night time were done by our team.”

Porter said the team does most of its training in Charlotte at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

“It’s a great resource within two hours away from us,” he said.

“Saints of the Earth” is what Porter calls the members of his team on their willingness to help others during urgent situations.

Marion County Sheriff Brian Wallace said a countywide curfew is set from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. until further notice. Meanwhile, the department is monitoring river levels and working with other agencies.

“We’re protecting the people and protecting their property the very best we can,” he said. “We’ve done that by the water rescues and working hand-to-hand with our law enforcement partners and general patrol duties.”

Wallace said things are running smoother because of the Hurricane Matthew experience and having more time to prepare.

“We were prepared this time, and citizens across the county have been prepared,” he said. “We’re just concerned about the Little Pee Dee River and Lumber River at this second.”

Wallace said the entire force has been working since last Wednesday.

“We’ve got a bunch of tired folks,” he said, “but they’re dedicated and want to help the citizens in the entire county.”

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