Beaufort News

Beaufort County firefighters assisting flood relief efforts in Clarendon County

Keith Kelley of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District took this photo of an impassable US 301 in Clarendon County, SC. The county is bordered to the southwest by Lake Marion. It's county seat is Manning.
Keith Kelley of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District took this photo of an impassable US 301 in Clarendon County, SC. The county is bordered to the southwest by Lake Marion. It's county seat is Manning. Submitted

More than 20 local firefighters assisting flood relief efforts in Clarendon County for the past three days could be in for a longer stay in the disaster-stricken county.

Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District firefighter Keith Kelley, one of 25 local firefighters sent to Clarendon County, said their service could be extended as Interstate 95 and other roads in the county are opened up.

Kelley and the Beaufort County firefighters -- 10 from Lady's Island-St. Helena, eight from the Burton Fire District, and seven from the Bluffton Township Fire Department -- were pressed into service Monday to relieve Clarendon County firefighters who had spent 48 straight hours on duty.

"It wasn't an easy 48 hours for them," Kelley said. "They were definitely physically and mentally tired. The whole county has been happy to see us."

National Guard members and Virginia Task Force 1, a FEMA search and rescue unit from Fairfax County, Va., have also been brought into the county to assist in the relief effort.

The firefighters have spent most of their three days in the county checking areas, primarily roads, for damage or hazards brought on by torrential rain and unrelenting flooding. Kelley said the county didn't have the same issues with water Columbia residents are facing, and most of the issues with power have been restored.

Many of the local routes in Clarendon County have been severely damaged by the flooding, Kelley said.

Photos the firefighter took of U.S. 301 between Turbeville and Manning show chunks of road missing, a partially submerged car, and sections of road washed out. The extent of the damage isn't yet known because in most areas of the county the rivers haven't crested, he said.

A 74-mile section of I-95, including the entire stretch that runs through Clarendon County, was shut down from flooding and other hazards on Sunday; parts of the highway reopened Wednesday.

Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett said Monday that most of the main roads in the county are impassable, cutting off the largest communities in the county from one another.

The local firefighters left Beaufort County Monday afternoon, driving up I-95 to its interchange with Interstate 26, where the S.C. Department of Transportation had closed the northbound lanes. From there, a police escort took them up I-95, which was rife with flooding, downed trees, and disabled cars, Kelley said.

When the firefighters' service in Clarendon County will end is unclear. The earliest they might demobilize is Thursday, but with portions of I-95 ready to be reopened, the expectation is that the volume of calls will go up from people asking for help recovering disabled cars or removing road hazards, Kelley said.

Whatever the case, Kelley said he and the other firefighters are ready for it.

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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