Evacuation Hartsville: Residents being relocated

September 19, 2018

Sonoco is releasing 3,500 cfs from Prestwood Lake in Hartsville in an effort to keep pressure off its dam. The additional water is traveling down Black Creek. The bridge on Patrick Highway is closed from crossing.

HARTSVILLE, S.C. — Residents of North Hartsville were asked to leave their homes early Tuesday morning as runoff from the aftermath of Hurricane Florence caused rivers to rise and many homes to flood.

Stephanie Cotton, a teacher at Pate Elementary, was one of hundreds of residents forced to evacuate from her Hartsville home.

“I want to go home,” Cotton said. “When they first told us we needed to leave, it was scary. I asked them why and they told us that they’ve never seen flooding like this and my first question to myself was: Where are we going to go?”

“You just never imagine anything like this happening,” Cotton said.

Cotton said she plans to stay with her aunt for a couple of days and then will make a decision.

“After I finish crying and praying, I know it’s going to be OK,” Cotton said. “We did have a couple of family members tell us we could come stay the night with them, which is a blessing. We’re hoping in a couple more days we can come home.”

Residents got the word Monday night, according to a media advisory.

“Residents along Prestwood Lake and Black Creek, below the Prestwood Dam, are advised that the Prestwood Dam at Prestwood Lake will overtop tonight,” the advisory said. .

“Homes in the area have a potential to flood. Public safety officials are currently notifying all homes and businesses in the potential areas of impact. If you see rising waters near your home, evacuate immediately to higher ground.”

A staging area at Emmanuel Baptist Church has been set up with local EMS, the National Guard, Lee County Fire Department and the Cajun Navy from Louisiana, some of whom are scouring the back roads looking for those who need to evacuate. For now, this is a Darlington County Office of Emergency Management project.

“Due to significant rainfall from Hurricane Florence and ongoing runoff from the Black Creek watershed, Duke Energy continues to make controlled water releases from Lake Robinson, which is necessary to protect the integrity of the dam and comply with regulations,” said Patrick Flynn with Duke Energy.

“We are making every effort to minimize water release rates, and are keeping local officials informed of lake conditions, including lake levels, inflow and discharge rates,” Flynn said. “Residents should continue to follow guidance and all warnings from county, city and state emergency management officials.”

Buses were staged and ready to evacuate. There was a shelter available to any resident that is in need of a location to stay during the flooding, according to the advisory.

‘Watching and waiting’

Jasper Williamson, who lives right outside downtown Hartsville, said he was monitoring the situation closely.

“It would take a good bit of rain for us to be affected by anything,” Williamson said. “We’re just watching and waiting. Praying for the best and hoping it’s able to get taken care of soon.”

Rachel Ankers said she lives close to Black Creek in Forest Hills, and it would take the water rising another 15-20 feet for her and her husband, Samuel, to be affected. She said that her neighbors can see the creek from their yards where they normally cannot.

“I haven’t made any safety precautions for my house, because I live in the middle of the neighborhood farther uphill,” Ankers said. “Water levels would have to rise drastically for it to impact my property.”

Ankers said the toughest part has been the flooding around the area that has affected traffic and her husband’s work.

“My husband works at Robinson Nuclear Plant, and the hurricane and flooding is having its own impact on the plant,” Ankers said. “The hurricane delayed the refueling outage that was supposed to start a few days ago, so my family is having to alter plans and schedules to accommodate the extra time for the outage.”

Lending a helping hand

In the midst of uncertainty, Jerusalem Baptist Church is looking to be a light in the darkness for many of those in the Hartsville community.

Jerusalem Baptist Church opened its doors to the local community as a way to minister to first responders, as well as those who had to evacuate their homes in North Hartsville as runoff from Prestwood Lake created flooding in nearby neighborhoods.

Late Monday night and into Tuesday morning, residents along Prestwood Lake and Black Creek, below the Prestwood Dam, were informed of the potential for flooding damages and were advised to leave their homes.

Nel Williams was one of those in Hartsville who was forced to evacuate. Instead of taking time to worry about her belongings, Williams began looking for a way to help the community. She said it took the church about three hours to get everything together, and then they were able to open.

“We all came together for the good of the community,” Williams said. “We’re going to try to open the church every day until we get situated and at least give people a hot meal. A lot of people are staying in shelters and at hotels and they’re displaced. We want to make sure that they’ll get a hot meal. We’re also going to serve first responders and whoever comes by.”

Williams said she was notified at approximately 9:30 p.m. Monday night about the flooding and the possibility of the Prestwood Dam breaking.

“They were very pleasant,” Williams said. “They told us that there was a possibility of the dam breaking today [Tuesday]. We were very blessed as a family to get the message and have gotten out. I was in law enforcement for about 35 years, and I know that when we’re out like they are, you’re always looking for a nice meal, so I thought we could provide that.”

Rev. Reginald S. Floyd, pastor of the church, said the decision was just a picture of what the church should be doing in times of need.

“What the church is trying to do is serve the community by opening its doors during this time when there is a storm out and people are displaced,” Floyd said. “People have certain needs, and we believe that the church is here to meet the needs of the people.”

Floyd said he hopes the church will be able to help those in the Hartsville community who are in need through service and love.

“The church is gathered together, so hopefully if there is some family that has a need, they can come by here and get a warm meal and we can offer anything we can to help them,” Floyd said.

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