Extreme floods coupled with rising sea levels could put billions of dollars of Beaufort County property and infrastructure at risk in coming years, a national climate-research group warned Monday.
The floods would threaten one in every four homes on Hilton Head Island and more than 40 percent of Parris Island, according to an analysis by Climate Central of Princeton, N.J., a nonprofit group of scientists and journalists that surveys and conducts climate-change studies. The group has released an analysis for 13 states, drawing on data from more than 10 federal agencies.
The New York Times has called the project "the most elaborate effort in decades to estimate the proportion of the national population at risk from the rising sea."
In the 29-page South Carolina report, the group cited what it called medium-range projections for a sea-level rise on the coast of 1.2 feet by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100.
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Within 20 to 40 years, floods and storm surges -- at 4 feet above the current high-tide line -- would jeopardize more than $6 billion worth of real estate and 14,200 homes sitting below the high-tide line in Beaufort County, according to the report.
"Sea-level rise means more floods, reaching higher -- and that's already happening today," said Ben Strauss, study leader and Climate Central's vice president for climate impacts.
On Hilton Head, more than 8,000 homes and $4 billion worth of property would be threatened. An interactive map on the organization's website shows large swaths of Sea Pines and areas near Broad Creek underwater in the event of a surge 4 feet above high tide.
In the city of Beaufort, nearly 400 homes and $291 million worth of property sit in the danger zone. About half that many homes would be submerged in the town of Port Royal, according to the report.
Schools, hospitals and churches would also be affected, the report says.
Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said the report shows coastal communities need to "begin to develop strategies to make their communities more resilient to different sea-level rise scenarios."
He cited the tourism industry as one sector that could be hit hard in a flood.
"We don't want to be alarmists, but we do know something is going to happen," he said. "The most prudent thing is to start planning."
Beaufort County floodplain manager Hakim Bayyoud said new federal floodplain maps, to be released this year, likely will take rising sea levels into account.
He said regulations, such as requiring taller raised foundations under homes, will be added.
"I can tell you that by talking to the (federal) flood-management people involved that (rising sea levels) will be an issue," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.