South Carolina

Storm dumps foot of rain across areas of SC overnight

By Andrew Shain

Neighbors watch as John Wienges and Will Lenski rescue their neighbors from their flooded homes along Gills Creek. The river flooded homes along Timberlane Drive and Whispering Pines Circle.
Neighbors watch as John Wienges and Will Lenski rescue their neighbors from their flooded homes along Gills Creek. The river flooded homes along Timberlane Drive and Whispering Pines Circle.

A slow-moving storm that has left parts of Charleston underwater dumped a foot of rain on the Columbia since midnight.

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The historic rainfall submerged lowing-lying traffic intersections around Columbia including Devine Street and Rosewood Drive and areas around Decker Boulevard.

S.C. Electric and Gas was reporting 3,262 power outages among its more than 158,000 customers in Richland County on Sunday morning. Lexington county customers were reporting 661 outages.

Nearly 6,200 SCE&G customers statewide were without power Sunday morning as of about 10:30 a.m.

Between 3:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the Columbia Fire Department had rescued people in at least 50 vehicles throughout the capital city.

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Flooding is widespread in Columbia, fire department spokesman Brick Lewis said.

The vehicle rescues have taken place in the Olympia and Whaley Street areas, at Washington and Main, on Ft. Jackson Boulevard and in the vicinity of the Forest Drive and Trenholm Road intersection.

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With the heavy rains continuing, Lewis said the city was advising people to stay indoors.

"Stay home and do not go to church," said Lewis, adding some churches had also called off services.

After soaking Charleston with nearly two feet of rain since Thursday, the storm shifted northwest overnight and drenched the Midlands.

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More than 14 inches had fallen at Forest Drive and Interstate 77 since midnight, according to Richland County. About a foot of rain had fallen in Eastover as well. About 10 inches soaked Five Points.

Shortly after 7 am, the S.C. Emergency Management Agency issued a statement saying the state was in an emergency situation and urged people to stay inside "due to severe weather and flash flooding."

The warning applied to people in Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Calhoun, Fairfield and Newberry counties.

Scenes from around Columbia, Lexington

Flooding is expected in Columbia, Lexington, West Columbia, Cayce, Irmo, Camden, Springdale, St. Andrews, as well as in Fairfield and Newberry counties, the National Weather Service reported.

Portions of Interstates 77 and 20 around Columbia were closed because of standing water, the S.C. Highway Patrol reported shortly before 8 am Sunday.

The stretches of I-77 closed were between mile markers 10 and 13 between Garners Ferry Road and Fort Jackson Boulevard, as well as a section near the Decker Boulevard exit.

The water was on both the north and southbound directions of I-77, state trooper David Jones said.

Also, a stretch of I-20 near Two Notch Road had also been closed, Jones said.

"Don't even attempt to travel," Jones advised shortly before 8 am. "You just need to stay off the road."

At least three dams had failed in Richland County by 9 a.m.

The Forest Lake, Arcadia Lake and Lake Dogwood dams had been affected by rising waters that were creating pressure, Lewis said.

"If you can get out to higher ground, we urge everyone to do that at this time," Lewis said.

Lewis did not know of any injuries related to broken dams, but he said the department was generally busy helping people trapped in homes and cars across town. The first dam breaks were reported after dawn.

"The rainfall totals that have come in are causing the waters of these lakes to flow over the dams and just give way,"" he said. "It is putting pressure on the dams."

In Lexington, the Old Mill Pond in the center of downtown has overflowed and led to evacuations of homes along 12-Mile Creek.

Lexington received more than six inches of rain overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

“Our dirt roads have become drainage ditches,” Lexington County Administrator Joe Mergo said, “We have never seen rain like this in my 22 years.”

SCE&G plans to releasing water from Lake Murray around noon, which will increase water flow to the Saluda River.

Lake Murray is an elevation of about 358 feet. SCE&G wants to keep the lake below 360 feet.

Shelters have begun to open.

Lexington County has opened two emergency shelters at the Lexington County Leisure Center in Lexington and Seven Oaks Park in Irmo.

Richland County opened a shelter at St. Andrews Baptist Church on Bush River Road.

The storm’s shift northwest does not mean conditions have improved on the coast, said Derrec Becker, a spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division.

State emergency officials are concerned about flooding getting worse with high tide at 2 p.m. Charleston could get another 6 inches of rain Sunday, according to National Weather Service forecasts.

The Columbia area is expected to get another 5 1/2 inches.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for South Carolina on Saturday.

To handle the crisis, the S.C. National Guard has activated another 300 service members, bringing the total to about 500, Becker said.

South Carolina also has requested other states send swift-water rescue teams.

Nine teams are coming from states including West Virginia and Tennessee, Becker said. The Federal Emergency Management Administration is sending two rescue teams. South Carolina has eight rescue teams.

The Comet Columbia-area bus system suspended services until further notice.

The rain forced cancellations across the Midlands, including church services.

One church that did cancel its Sunday worship was the Downtown Church on low-lying Whaley Street in the Olympia section of town near the University of South Carolina baseball stadium: "We couldn't find Noah's Ark in time. So, church is cancelled this morning. Stay safe, and we'll see you next Sunday."

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