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Some residents return home a day after being evacuated

September 23, 2018

The US 76/SC 9 intersection in Nichols, much like the rest of the town, is under feet of water from the Lumber River to the east and the Little Pee Dee River to the west.

EFFINGHAM, S.C. — Residents evacuated from neighborhoods along the Lynches River in central Florence County on Friday received the go-ahead to return home Saturday as the river started to recede as did residents evacuated from their homes along Black Creek.

Evacuations were ordered for Zone 1 and Zone 2 Friday — neighborhoods from the U.S. 378 bridge upstream to the U.S. 301 bridge — as the river rapidly rose and flooded roads and homes in neighborhoods along both banks. Zone 3, neighborhoods between the U.S. 378 bridge and the S.C. 41/51 bridge, had not been ordered to evacuate as of Saturday afternoon.

By Saturday morning the river covered the landing at US 52 and all but about 20 yards of the road leading down to the landing -- and it was running much faster than usual.

“It’s not going too top the 52 bridge,” said Howe Springs Fire Chief William Dillon after he completed a Saturday morning survey of Zone 1 — neighborhoods upstream from the U.S. 52 bridge over the river. There had been worries that the river could overtop the bridge and sever one of the main north-south routes through the county.

Friday morning, Florence County officials issued the order for Zone 1 — neighborhoods upstream from the US 52 bridge. Early Friday afternoon they issued a similar order for Zone 2 — from the U.S. 52 bridge downstream to the U.S. 378 bridge. Zone 3, neighborhoods between the U.S. 378 bridge and the S.C. 41/51 bridge, had not been ordered to evacuate as of Saturday afternoon.

Water was flowing so hard and fast Friday afternoon that water from Lynches River was running away from the river and up drainage ditches, swamps and canals as the river channel filled with runoff from the rains of Hurricane Florence that fell in the midlands of South Carolina and over the border in central North Carolina around Charlotte.

“The water is running in the right direction,” Dillon said Saturday morning after his windshield survey.” The ditches are running the way they should instead of backing up. There is still a lot of water and everything is still full.”

Friday, streams that normally run from inland areas to the river ran instead from the river inland.

“The U.S. Geological Service had their boat in the water as we went by and they had their meters and gauges out,” said Bryan Bennett, Howe Springs assistant fire chief. “We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now.”

McAllister Mill Road, which was closed Friday because water was running across its bridge over the Lynches River, was clear Saturday morning and the barricades were slated to soon be removed, Dillon said.

“The crest has moved to the Meadow Prong Road area,” Dillon said about noon Saturday. He said it was forecast to pass the U..S 52 bridge late Saturday as it moved downstream, through Zone 2, on its way to the Great Pee Dee River at Johnsonville.

Firefighters, Florence County sheriff’s deputies and troops from the Army and Air National Guards patrolled the evacuated areas overnight — one group to protect the property and the other to be ready for evacuations -- and held groups in reserve at Howe Springs Cusac Crossroads’ station and at South Lynches’ Coward Station.

None of the groups did more than patrol and stand by as there were no major incidents and no calls for rescue or evacuation.

By Saturday morning about a dozen firefighters, guardsmen and sheriff’s deputies were holed up in the Cusac Crossroads’ station’s day room where they watched “Game Day,” ate breakfast and monitored radio traffic in case they were needed.

“The civilians have done a great job heeding the warnings and not driving through the water, paying close attention to the barricades and evacuation orders,” Dillon said. “We’re not having any trouble.”

That sentiment was echoed by the Florence County Sheriff’s Office and South Lynches Fire Department, which was in charge of Zone 2.

“We monitored water levels in certain places and had teams here in case something happened,” said James Eppes as he worked to tidy up the day room at the agency’s Coward station, where mattresses had been scattered for the overnight crew and where Krispy Kreme doughnut boxes -- donated by residents -- sat off to one side. “It’s been quiet so far.”

“If it stays like it is, things stay quiet and settled down we’ll go back to normal operations (by Saturday evening),” Eppes said.

“Hopefully the water keeps flowing and we stay no more worse off than we are now,” Eppes said.

Until the water recedes and the evacuation orders are lifted, though, Eppes said crews would continue to patrol and protect Zone 2 and stand by for any necessary rescues.

Dillon said this year’s Lynches River flood was mostly like 2015′s 1,000-year flood and 2016′s Hurricane Matthew flood, with one difference.

“What’s different about this one is the large swamps, large canals that run out were running just as fast backwards as the river was running toward the Great Pee Dee (River). That’s just something you don’t see that often,” Dillon said.

The normal water flow pattern during floods is for the water to flow toward the river, not away from the river, both Dillon and Bennett said.

The volume of water in the river and the speed at which it flowed left it nowhere to go but into the empty canals and dry swamps, Dillon said.

“I’m beginning to believe today that people will start to see the water off the roads, especially on the west side of U.S. 52 except for a few select roads like Roundtree and Fork Road, maybe part of Ben Guase (Road),” Dillon said. “By tomorrow the water will be clear from around the houses and back in the ditches. This thing should be out of here by Monday.”

By Sunday afternoon at least one shelter, the one in Lake City, was closing and the shelter in Florence had one person in it.

River roundup

According to the National Weather Service’s hydrological forecast for Lynches River it will remain at least at minor flood stage through Monday night before returning to its banks Tuesday.

North of the Lynches River, Black Creek at Quinby continued to recede through minor flood stage and was forecast to be back in its banks by late Sunday afternoon.

Beyond Florence County the Lumber River at Lumberton’s river gauge is broken but reports from the community indicate the river crested well above major flood stage and is forecast to remain at major flood stage through at least Thursday, according to the weather service’s website.

Near the Marion County town of Nichols the Lumber River crested overnight Wednesday and is slowly receding. Downstream from Nichols the Little Pee Dee also crested overnight Wednesday and is receding. Because the two river gauges are relatively new, and lack historical data, there is no projection of where flood stage is or how quickly the rivers are forecast to recede.

Nichols sits just north of the confluence of the two rivers and suffered devastating floods in 2016 and is again underwater as a result of Hurricane Florence.

Farther downstream the Little Pee Dee River at Galivants Ferry crested just above its previous record of 17.1 feet and is forecast to remain at major flood stage through at least Thursday.

Conway has yet to see the worst of the Waccamaw River flooding as the crest near Conway is not forecast to pass until Tuesday afternoon — four feet above its previous record of 17.9 feet.

“Traffic is moving in both directions on U. S. 501 Bypass in Conway today, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, after crews have completed building the flood barrier wall. The Waccamaw River has risen (to) 13.2 feet this morning. The barrier wall has been built to a level of 20 feet,” the South Carolina Department of Transportation posted to its Facebook page. The agency has also positioned large water pumps near the Waccamaw River bridge on U.S. 501 to keep water off it.

The steps on U.S. 501 in Conway are part of an overall plan to keep the U.S. 378/US 501 corridor from Lake City to Myrtle Beach open as perhaps the only major route to the beach as floodwaters continue to rise.

A similar barrier wall has been constructed on U.S. 378 east of Lake City to have protected the road from the Lynches River should it have risen higher than it did.

Florence County Emergency Management Director Dusty Owens has said that corridor is the one most easily defended from rising flood waters.

The U.S. 76/SC576/U.S. 501 corridor through Marion County and western Horry County has multiple water related closings as does S.C. 9, which passes through the now-flooded Nichols on its way through northern Horry County.

While U.S. 17 north from Georgetown has been open that is expected to change next week — though state officials are working to keep the bridge over the Waccamaw River at Winyah Bay open as long as possible.

“SCDOT, Georgetown County Emergency Operations, and the South Carolina National Guard have developed a plan to keep open U.S. 17 for a period of time as the flood waters rise at U.S. 17 crossing over the Waccamaw River in Georgetown,” according to a post on the agency’s Facebook page. “The plan is designed to delay the closing of the bridge for as long as possible. It is expected that the flood water will overtop the roadway barriers at a point in time and require the closure of the bridge to traffic.”

“Based on current forecasts, we anticipate flood waters to impact the bridge mid-week next week,” according to the post.

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