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Hurricane Florence leaves Pee Dee rivers rising in its wake

September 17, 2018

Flood waters from Hurricane Florence Sunday morning block Interstate 95 in Dillon County between the SC 28 and SC 24 interchanges.

FLORENCE, S.C. – As the remnants of what was Hurricane Florence blew out of the Pee Dee on Sunday, the rains it brought with it, and the water it left in its wake, left residents along Black Creek in Florence evacuating and left SCDOT crews scrambling to protect one of the primary routes into Horry County from rising flood waters.

A day after canceling the mandatory evacuation of communities along Black Creek – one that was set to go into effect at noon Saturday – the county issued a second mandatory evacuation early Sunday afternoon for Nena Lane, Split Rail Drive, East Black Creek Drive, Stag Horn Lane, Atlee Court, Crooked Creek Drive and Creekside Drive, beginning immediately and to be finished by 8 p.m., according to a release issued by the Florence County Emergency Management Division.

A handful of Florence County Sheriff’s deputies working with Windy Hill firefighters late Sunday afternoon were expected to go door-to-door to urge residents to evacuate.

Maj. Mike Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff’s Office said it appeared that 30-40 residences would be affected by the evacuation order.

County officials are working with the American Red Cross and the Department of Social Services to open a shelter for Black Creek residents who evacuate, said Levi James, Florence County Emergency Management Division.

Upstream from the evacuated neighborhoods, Darlington County officials called for the evacuation of neighborhoods around Swift Creek and noted that dams in that area were having to discharge water. That water flows into Black Creek on its way to the Great Pee Dee River in eastern Florence County.

“Due to significant rainfall from Hurricane Florence, Duke Energy is releasing water from Lake Robinson. Prior to the release beginning, Duke Energy notified area officials, said Ryan Mosier, spokesman for Duke Energy. “While Lake Robinson water levels were low, they have increased significantly with the rainfall over the past days, making this controlled release necessary to protect the integrity of the dam. We are making every effort to minimize the release rate to the extent possible.”

Lake Robinson is the origin of Black Creek.

Black Creek was forecast to rise quickly throughout Sunday and to crest slightly below the record that was set during Hurricane Matthew and to remain at that level throughout the week, according to a bulletin issued by the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The special shelter was necessary, because at 5 p.m. Florence County officials closed the shelters that had been opened for Hurricane Florence evacuees.

Protecting the road

On the opposite end of the county from Black Creek, SCDOT crews were starting a flood barrier along U.S. 378 east of Lake City to protect the road and a bridge over the Lynches River from flooding.

Crews had eastbound traffic down to one lake Sunday afternoon while crews trucked in, off loaded and placed concrete barriers along the road. Eventually the barriers would be bolstered with sandbags, crew members at the scene said.

East of Florence, another set of crews worked on a similar barrier at the U.S. 378/U.S. 501 interchange in Conway.

“Operations will be underway to construct a flood barrier to protect the highway from Hurricane Florence floodwaters that are expected to overtop the bridges by Tuesday without this protective barrier at these locations,” according to a release issued.

“The flood barrier is being built to ensure that there is at least one safe way to travel into Myrtle Beach,” according to an SCDOT Facebook post on the barrier construction.

“Motorists should expect delays and alternative traffic patterns in the vicinity of these two work zones. The construction of these barriers is expected to be complete by Monday evening,” according to a release on the flood-prevention projects.

Florence County Emergency Management Division Director Dusty Owens said that the barrier was being constructed because of worst-case scenarios and that county officials didn’t see that area of the county flooding.

“We don’t think the water is going to be that high,” Owens said.

The barriers are being constructed at the direction of the governor, Owens said.

The U.S. 378/U.S. 501 route into Myrtle Beach is the one that is most defendable from rising waters, Owens said.

North of Florence, Interstate 95 was blocked Sunday morning from the S.C. 38 interchange to the S.C. 34 interchange because of high water, according to the department of transportation.

“There is not a passable detour at this time,” according to the SCDOT’s website.

Beyond the South Carolina line, North Carolina’s Traffic Information Management System’s website showed many areas of Interstate 95 were closed, and working traffic cameras displayed empty lanes in both directions.

SCDOT’s website recommends using Interstates 26 and 77 through Columbia into central North Carolina as one work around for East Coast travelers as well as using Interstate 85 in western South Carolina and North Carolina.

Flooding in the future

Areas north and east of Florence County received more rain than areas around Florence, which received approximately three inches of rain based on Doppler Radar images released from the National Weather Service office in Wilmington.

A band of rain that stretched from Bennettsville to Sellers and Marion dumped 6 to 10 inches of rain across the arc, while areas outside of that arc received 4-5 inches of rain.

Areas across the border in North Carolina received up to 15 inches of rain from the storm, which arrived Friday morning and remained to some extent through most of the weekend.

Rain across that area flows, ultimately, into South Carolina through the Great Pee Dee River, Lumber River, Waccamaw River and Little Pee Dee River – all of which are expected to crest at flood levels later this week. Two – the Lumber River and the Waccamaw River – could crest at record levels, according to information from the weather service office.

The Lumber River at Lumberton is expected to crest at more than 25 feet Monday morning. Flood stage for the river is 12 feet. The river is expected to remain at major flood stage through at least the end of the week.

The Little Pee Dee River is expected to rise slowly throughout the week until it hits major flood levels Wednesday morning and to rise to levels within a foot of the record it set two years ago during Hurricane Matthew.

The Lumber and Little Pee Dee Rivers converge south of Nichols in northern Marion County and, during Hurricane Matthew, combined for massive floods that devastated the community.

The Waccamaw River is forecast to rise gradually throughout the week, hitting major flood stage Thursday morning, and to continue to rise beyond levels generated by Hurricanes Matthew and Floyd (1999) by at least 3 feet.

The Great Pee Dee River is forecast to flood at both Cheraw and Pee Dee. At Cheraw and Pee Dee, it is forecast to approach record levels but to not flood much more than farm and bottom land.

The Lynches River is expected to crest well below flood level in Florence County.

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