The Latest: Obama signs disaster declaration
The Associated Press
Oct. 06, 2015
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The latest on the rainstorm that is pounding parts of the East Coast (all times local):
President Barack Obama has signed a disaster declaration, ordering federal aid to help recovery efforts in South Carolina.
The president's action on Monday makes federal funding available to people in Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland, and Williamsburg counties.
Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the flooding.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and additional counties may be designated for assistance after the assessments are fully completed.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is speaking on the Senate floor about the devastating rain and flooding that have hit his state.
Graham said Monday that everything bad that could happen had occurred with record rain and "the worst of nature."
Graham said he was in Charleston this past weekend and he had never seen anything like it.
He said 2015 has been a miserable year for the state, a reference to the Charleston church shooting in June that left nine dead and the past days flooding.
He says his state will be judicious when asking for federal aid after floodwaters recede.
John Shelton of the U.S. Geological Survey says flooding can be a concern for any urban area, with an abundance of concrete covering soil that would otherwise act as a sponge for excessive rains.
But the multitude of waterways in Columbia also makes the city a prime target for flooding, as rainwater seeking to flow into a creek or river gets waylaid on the city's roadways.
Shelton says Columbia has the benefit or the detriment of being right in the center of three major rivers, with the Broad and the Saluda coming together and forming the Congaree, and those running right through the middle of town. He says the rivers help act as drains.
Shelton has been with the agency for more than two decades and serves as the chief of its hydrologic monitoring in South Carolina. He says the state has received six months' worth of rain in two days.
Authorities have ordered the evacuation of neighborhoods in a South Carolina town after two dams burst east of downtown Columbia.
Robert Yanity is a spokesman for the Department of Health and Environmental Control. He said a dam on Overcreek Road along Rockyford Lake in Forest Acres and a dam on Carys Lake in the adjoining town of Arcadia Lakes burst about 2 p.m. Forest Acres, which is located downstream from Carys Lake, had some neighborhoods evacuated. Yanity said authorities are also concerned about two other dams for lakes fed by Rockyford and Carys. Yanity said the potential to breach is strong, as water is spilling over and undercutting the dams. But he said those are covered by the same evacuation order that already went out.
Families began trickling into AC Flora High School where an emergency shelter was set up.
Bett Williams went to the shelter with her 9-year-old son and 12 year-old daughter.
In the 48 years her family has owned the home where she lives, she's never seen flooding anywhere near her house.
She said her mother gave her a call Monday afternoon, they started getting ready to leave and that's when she saw the emergency vehicles.
"We still hope and pray it will be OK," she said.
The coroner for the county surrounding Columbia has released the names of several people found dead in flooded vehicles, bringing the death toll from the storms to at least 12.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said a 35-year-old woman was found dead early Monday and a 78-year-old man was found late Sunday night at separate locations near Gills Creek, the site of some of the worst flooding.
Watts said a 60-year-old man was found Monday morning near another creek east of there.
There have been at least 10 deaths in South Carolina since the storms started last week, while there have been two storm-related deaths in North Carolina.
Island roads are flooded, motorists are driving through waterlogged intersections and streets in downtown Charleston, and water surrounds upscale homes in a suburb west of the city.
Flying in a helicopter in a light drizzle, an AP reporter and photographer got a view of the aftermath of the storm Monday from hundreds of feet above the Charleston area. In one subdivision, homes were cut off as people walked through knee-high water and a man paddled through the water. Several streets had abandoned cars. Oil sheens reflected from the flood waters.
In the city's historic district, drivers left wakes behind their cars as they drove through standing water. Although most of the streets were clear, a television news crew had found one of the streets where there was still flooding as the background for a weathercaster.
On Sullivans Island and the Isle of Palms northeast of Charleston, water covered streets nearest the beachfront and some homes were completely surrounded by high water. But the damage would likely be minimal because island homes are raised on pilings.
At Boone Hall Plantation in nearby Mount Pleasant, fields were covered with water and pumpkins scattered in one area, apparently floating away from where they had been stacked.
Two members of the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base say they have rescued between 25 and 30 people over the last two days.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Will Sirmon, says his team was able to maneuver rescue baskets down to many houses to pluck people from their porches. They would see people waiving towels and that's how they knew to go get some of them.
Henry Hickman, a firefighter from Myrtle Beach, said his most dangerous mission Sunday was plucking a man from a tree in moving water in Sumter County.
Hickman said the man appeared to have tried to drive through moving water and had abandoned his vehicle and was clinging to a tree in rising water.
He said the man had been there several hours but his team was able to access him by helicopter and turn him over to the local EMS workers.
Officials at the University of South Carolina are bringing in bottled water and portable restrooms to help take care of the 31,000 students who attend the school's main campus in the flooded capital city of Columbia.
The city has warned all residents to boil water before using it for drinking or cooking. University officials say bottled water was delivered Monday to several on-campus buildings, and students in campus housing were being encouraged to use stoves and microwaves and common areas to boil water themselves.
Portable restrooms have been delivered to residence halls, sorority and fraternity houses and the student union building.
Officials say classes will also be cancelled Tuesday. The campus is open, and officials say several dining areas and a counseling center are open for students' use.
Members of the U.S. Geological Survey returned to one of the worst flooded sections of Columbia to replace a water gauge that had been swept away from a bridge over Gills Creek.
John Joiner, one of a team from Atlanta deployed to Columbia for the emergency, said the creek is at 9.5 feet, reaching to just under the bridge. Weather officials said the 16.6 inches that fell Sunday on the Gills Creek area was the rainiest day in one single spot in the U.S. in more than 16 years.
One truck lay beside the bridge and merchandise from a nearby department store were scattered about the streets. Shoes and other clothing drenched by the floods were captured in bushes, trees and other debris alongside the bridge.
John Blackmon, 30, who lives just 200 feet from Gills Creek, said the water rose up to a foot or two behind his home.
"It's into the basement area, looks like 2 to 3 feet deep, but I haven't gone down there to view the damage," Blackmon said.
A half-dozen fire trucks and pumps from cities in South Carolina have moved hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to a hospital in downtown Columbia.
Capt. Isaac Romey of the Columbia Fire Department said the crews from a variety of departments moved water from hydrants in a shuttle operation to Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital, which was without running water.
"The tankers pull the water out of the hydrants, move it into dump tanks and then pull it into the hospital," Romey said.
He said the operation began around 11 p.m. Sunday and was continuing Monday. The water is being used for uses other than drinking.
He said the operation had put at least 300,000 gallons into the system at that point, and he said it would go on as long as needed.
The 16.6 inches of rain that fell on the Gills Creek area near Columbia on Sunday was one of the rainiest days in the U.S. in the last 15 years.
That's according to weather stations with more than 50 years of record-keeping.
On Sunday, Gills Creek turned into a raging torrent of murky brown floodwater that swamped dozens of homes, apartments and businesses. The creek was 10 feet above flood stage, spilling floodwaters that almost reached the stoplights at a four-lane intersection.
The National Weather Service says 18 inches of rain fell in Panacea, Florida, in 2012 and 18.4 inches dropped on Houston in 2001.
(This version corrects a previous story that said Gills Creek had the single rainiest day in the U.S. since 1999. Based on a more complete review, federal weather officials say Gills Creek had one of the rainiest days in the last 15 years, but it was not the rainiest.)
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says the rain is starting to back off after inundating the state, but she is still warning people that the danger is not over.
She says officials will be closely following a wave of floodwater Monday as it moves across the state toward the coast. More communities may have to be evacuated and more roads and bridges may need to be closed as the water runs downstream toward the coast.
More than 40,000 people are without water and water distribution sites are being set up. She says at least nine people have died in the state. Five of them drowned and four were killed in traffic-related accidents. More than 900 people are in shelters and about 26,000 people are still without power.
Authorities say a 56-year-old man who tried to drive his sedan through floodwaters in South Carolina has died, the ninth fatality since a slow-moving rainstorm began several days ago.
Kershaw County Coroner David West said McArthur Woods drowned after driving around a barricade Sunday night into standing water on a road in Lugoff, a community northeast of Columbia.
Someone called 911 around 10 p.m. after hearing a passenger in the car screaming. The 28-year-old woman managed to climb out through a window and get on top of the car. A firefighter with a tether waded into several feet of water and rescued her.
Woods wasn't able to make it out of the car, which was already submerged when the woman was saved.
West said the woman was taken to the hospital and doesn't appear to have life-threatening injuries.
Attorney General Alan Wilson is warning South Carolinians that a law against price gouging is under effect in the wake of torrential rains and flooding across the state.
The top prosecutor issued a news release Monday saying the law went into effect when Gov. Nikki Haley issued a state of emergency for the state.
Wilson urges people to notify his office if they see gouging happening for prices of commodities including food, gasoline, lodging and water.
Floodwaters are starting to recede in Charleston, one of the areas hardest hit as days of torrential rain gripped South Carolina.
But public schools and government offices in Charleston remained closed Monday. City officials say about 30 streets and intersections are still closed because of standing water. Others roads in outlying areas closed as well.
By morning, though, the rain had stopped in Charleston. Officials say some flooding should recede with the midmorning low tide. The high tide Monday afternoon is not predicted to be nearly as high as those of the weekend.
The flooding across South Carolina has forced desperate rescues for some, and discomfort and unexpected expense for nearly everyone.
Pastor Robert Hunter went to church Sunday morning and couldn't return afterward to his home in the Florence County town of Pamplico.
Early Monday, from a hotel off Interstate 95 about 15 miles from his home, the 63-year-old Hunter said: "I got about less than a mile from my home, and the water there had broken across the road. The road was impassable, and all the other little roads around were impassible."
He was trying to return home after leading Sunday services. He says he crossed bridges with water already up to the point that it was rushing across the span's pavement. After trying alternates, he gave up and checked into the hotel about an hour before it filled up.
He says his wife was OK at their home on a small rise more than a mile from the Pee Dee River.
Gov. Nikki Haley says South Carolina is facing rain and flooding the likes of which haven't been seen in 1,000 years, with 2 feet of rain reported in some areas.
Haley told NBC's Today show on Monday morning, "Our obvious priority is safety."
Haley says six people have died in her state. Another died in North Carolina.
The governor also says: 381 roads are closed, with 127 bridges down. More than two dozen shelters are open. Over 1,000 law enforcement personnel and 1,000 transportation department workers are working. Utility crews are working to restore service to 30,000 customers.
Haley says most people are heeding her plea to stay off the roads.
She says: "I think they get it. All you have to do is look out the window and see the flooding. It doesn't take long for you to get in your car and realize you've got to turn back around."
Haley plans another update at an 11:30 a.m. news conference. She warns that the worst isn't over yet, as rain is still falling.
Record rainfall totals have been recorded in South Carolina's capital city as part of historic flooding that has deluged the area.
The National Weather Service says Sunday was the wettest day in the history of Columbia. The rainfall total at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport was 6.87 inches, the most rain that's ever fallen there in one day.
Forecasters say the old record of 5.79 inches was set July 9, 1959.
The two-day rainfall total for Saturday and Sunday was 10.44 inches. That breaks the old record of 7.69 inches set over August 16 and 17, 1949.
Since Friday, more than 20 inches of rain has fallen in some parts of Columbia. The Weather Service says Gills Creek, an area that has seen neighborhoods and thoroughfares under water, had recorded 20.28 inches as of early Monday morning.
The storm stretched beyond South Carolina - in Georgia, more than 14,000 customers were still without power early Monday. That's down from 33,000 at the height of outages in the state. Many of the outages were in hard-hit Habersham County, where schools are closed Monday. Rain and high winds that toppled trees caused the outages.
In Maryland, 14 people were rescued by boat after the Patuxent River flooded a mobile home park.
Authorities have released information about a South Carolina Department of Transportation worker killed in the aftermath of torrential rains and historic flooding in the state.
The agency says in a news release that 45-year-old Timothy Wayne Gibson died in flood waters Sunday while overseeing work near downtown Columbia.
DOT says Gibson was working on Garners Ferry Road, a major thoroughfare into the capital city that has seen feet of water pooling in residential and commercial areas.
Transportation officials say Gibson was with the agency's Richland Maintenance Unit and was traveling in a truck that was caught in rushing waters, overturned and was swept away. An autopsy is scheduled Monday.
So far, at least seven deaths have been blamed on the vast storm that has forced hundreds from their homes, canceled schools and prompted rescues of stranded citizens by water and air.
Thousands of South Carolina residents are waking up to homes without electricity after historic flooding throughout the state.
An online coverage map showed that power was out early Monday morning for more than 13,500 South Carolina Electric & Gas customers. Nearly 12,000 of those outages were in Richland and Lexington counties, where flood waters have been abundant in many neighborhoods and commercial areas.
Duke Energy said that about 7,800 of its customers had no electricity, primarily in the northwestern corner of South Carolina.
As of late Sunday afternoon, officials said more than 6,000 electric cooperative customers were without power, most of those also in the central and northwestern parts of the South Carolina.
A mother and her infant affected by historic South Carolina flooding have been rescued from their roof top via helicopter.
The U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release that a crew plucked Cristi Mueller and her 15-month-old daughter Kailynn Walts from the roof of their home in Huger in Berkeley County.
Crews got reports at around 6:20 a.m. Sunday that the family was stranded due to severe flooding in the neighborhood.
A crew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, Georgia, was launched to rescue the two. Mueller and her daughter were taken to Mt. Pleasant Regional Airport. Officials say the woman and her child were not hurt.
The 5:30 p.m. item has been corrected to reflect that two dams, not one, burst east of Columbia, and that they were located in two separate towns near Columbia, not the capital.