Officials across the Lowcountry agree that this weekend’s flooding is the worst they’ve seen, but the area isn’t quite out of the woods yet.
“It’s a record rainfall,” said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, adding that he’s never seen anything like it. “Some have called it a 500-year storm to have this much rain in such little time.”
Dry weather is forecast Tuesday, but Charleston will have to suffer through another 2 to 3 inches of rain into Monday afternoon, with 4 to 6 inches possible into Berkeley County, according to meteorologist Emily Timte with the National Weather Service in North Charleston.
Schools in the tri-county area will be closed Monday as several roads remain underwater due to the flooding associated with the rain. Rescues and evacuations have been underway all weekend and shelters are open indefinitely to people forced out of their homes.
The rainfall this weekend broke several weather records dating back to 1938 in North Charleston and 1870 downtown.
Both airport and downtown rainfall totals “pretty much smashed” the wettest October on record, Timte said.
From Thursday through 5 p.m. Sunday, 16.01 inches of rain were recorded at the airport, breaking the 1994 October record of 12.11 inches. There were 14.25 inches recorded downtown from Thursday through 4:30 a.m. Sunday, breaking the 1959 record of 11.74 inches.
And despite confusion, none of the rainfall was from Hurricane Joaquin, which is “far, well-removed from the area,” Timte said. She added that beaches may have seen an increased swell from the Category 3 storm, but that’s about it.
What residents are seeing is a “persistent moisture feed,” she added.
‘I’m just glad were OK’
The city of Charleston made 40 home rescues from 7:30 a.m. Sunday through about 5:30 p.m., according to Emergency Management Director Mark Wilbert. He said more than 66 vehicles that were “flooded out” have been towed since midnight Thursday and there were more than 150 disabled vehicles on city streets.
The city also handed out more than 5,000 sandbags to folks preparing for the heavy rainfall and flooding. As of Sunday afternoon, there were 61 city streets closed.
“We have been very busy with flooding on the streets, not only downtown but throughout the city,” Wilbert said.
He added that the bulk of the work and evacuations over Saturday to Sunday were not on the peninsula, but in West Ashley and on Johns Island. South Carolina Electric and Gas reported power outages across the Lowcountry throughout the weekend, with the bulk in Charleston County. There were more than 2,000 outages still reported there Sunday evening.
State and local emergency responders evacuated at least 40 people in the Shadowmoss neighborhood in West Ashley because of flooding.
Jessica McHale and her family live near the Shadowmoss golf course. She waited with a neighbor outside the fire station on Bees Ferry Road, where dozens of cars had lined up for free sandbags from the city.
McHale’s house started flooding at 2 a.m. As rainwater deluged her street late at night, dogs barked and car alarms blared. By the time she got up around 4:30 in morning, the entire bottom floor was soaked. Pillows and rugs were floating. In her kitchen, she could hear pots and pans clanging. The brown, murky water gurgled whenever the toilets upstairs flushed. Her brand-new Nissan Leaf flooded, too.
This isn’t the first time her house has flooded, but it’s certainly the worst. McHale said she doesn’t know how they’ll ever sell the place now.
“Its all just things,” she said. “I’m just glad we’re OK.”
The Coast Guard also responded to rescue calls and were on standby to assist local agencies.
Charleston County spokesman Shawn Smetana said 911 Consolidated Dispatch received more than 300 calls for assistance during a two-hour period Saturday night.
The Charleston County Rescue Squad estimated close to 100 responses for assistance Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
In North Charleston, boat evacuations were underway along Peppercorn and Ginger lanes in the Pepperhill subdivision on Sunday afternoon, according to the Police Department. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said there were nine rescues out of one house.
Summey and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., called flooding there the worst in city history. Both were at an afternoon news conference that was held at Spruill and Little avenues. Behind them, stalled cars could be seen in the flooded streets.
“This is the worst flooding I’ve seen since Hurricane Hugo. It is no place to be out,” said Scott. “The next 24 hours will be critical.”
Downtown Charleston’s main roads were mostly passable Sunday morning as the night’s heavy rainfall gave way to lighter showers at daybreak. Throughout the morning, residents and tourists took advantage of the storm’s lull and emerged onto the sidewalks to walk their dogs and get a bit of fresh air after being cooped up inside for most of the soggy weekend.
Connie and Lowry Hughes, who live on Coming Street, took a stroll toward Calhoun Street at around 9 a.m. “I was starting to get cabin fever,” Connie said.
Lowry Hughes said there wasn’t too much excitement in their neighborhood overnight, which is near the College of Charleston campus. “Lots of rain and boredom,” he said.
A few streets over on Smith Street, Jae Carson, woke up to find her car flooded in the parking lot behind her house. The water came up to her thighs, she said.
“I was freaking out,” she said. “But it could have been worse. That’s what I keep telling myself.”
Since then, the city of Charleston announced that it has extended the period for residents to park their cars for free in any city parking garage downtown during the rain. The city requested that cars be removed from the garages by noon Monday.
As the rainy weather resumed, North Charleston and Dorchester County officials implemented curfews Sunday night to help keep people off the dangerous roads.
The state Department of Public Works also urged people to avoid driving. A release said the flooding had compromised the integrity of some roadways, resulting in bridge collapses and roads being washed out.
Summey said that city of North Charleston staff have been photographing flooding and flood-related problems in the city so that officials will be ready for an evaluation of the situation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Wilbert added that damage-assessment teams would be deployed across the state over the next several weeks to evaluate flood damage and Riley said the city was already starting the paperwork to receive FEMA assistance.
The focus once the area has weathered the storm will be on cleanup.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to flush the standing water out of the drainage system in the next couple days,” Riley said.
He said there is a lot of debris on city streets and a lot of intersections that would need cleaning up, in addition to residents’ needs. City officials stand ready to help residents, he said.
Both Riley and Wilbert commended residents for heeding the city’s warnings throughout the weekend.
“It’s been an entire city effort,” Wilbert said.
Timte said rain should move out of the area by Monday afternoon. There is a 90 percent chance of rain in the morning and it decreases throughout the day to about 30 or 40 percent in the evening. The high is forecast to be about 70 degrees.
Rain is not in the forecast Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Timte. Tuesday is expected to be cloudy with a high temperature in the low 70s and Wednesday is forecast to be mostly sunny with highs in the mid-70s.
Deanna Pan, Abigail Darlington and Prentiss Findlay contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Boughton at (843)937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.