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Swollen rivers to create hazards downstream

  • Updated

The forecast calls for clearer skies, but the Lowcountry isn't out of the storm — at least not yet.

The threat of flooded rivers, impassable roads and inundated homes has increased in the days ahead due to swelling waters in the Midlands.

“While it may not be raining in the Lowcountry, the rivers that are coming to the Lowcountry are still rising,” warned John Shelton, chief of the hydrologic monitoring section of the U.S. Geological Survey's S.C. office.

At least 15 rivers and creeks across the state already are experiencing minor to major flooding, according to the federal Southeast River Forecast Center in Georgia. Those include the Edisto River, which poses the greatest local threat.

In West Columbia, the Congaree River crested Sunday evening at 126.9 feet, missing a 39-year-old record by a little more than half an inch. By late Sunday, the river's floodwaters started to recede.

The Congaree River flows downstream to its confluence with the Wateree River, where the Santee River forms. Water levels in the Santee River near Jamestown in Berkeley County surpassed 13.6 feet Monday afternoon, placing the river in the middle of a minor flood stage. But National Weather Service forecasters predict a combination of upstream flow and the weekend's heavy rainfall will cause the Santee to enter a moderate flood stage of 17 feet by early Wednesday.

“Everyone knows the water is going through Columbia now and it's only a matter of time before it heads that way,” said Pete Brooks, a spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division. “Those (emergency preparedness) plans are taking place now.”

Water will continue to slowly rise to 20.4 feet by Saturday morning, according to the forecast, flooding a smattering of homes on Harris Landing Road and Crow Hill Drive and part of Lawton Farm Lane. If water swells to 23 feet, numerous homes in the area will flood.

“It's too early to tell whether they'll get higher than that,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ron Morales. “It looks pretty certain at this point it will probably go into moderate flood stage on Wednesday.”

On Sunday, Santee Cooper Power began a controlled release of water into the Santee River, a process known as “spilling,” in preparation for heavy inflow and to maintain appropriate water levels at Lake Marion. Mollie Gore, spokeswoman for the public utility, said spilling operations will continue until further notice.

The power company will continue to monitor the weather and lakes, dams and dikes. Gore said they don't expect any issues.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” Gore said.

In Orangeburg, the north fork of the Edisto entered a major flood stage late Sunday night, breaching 11.5 feet, inundating farmlands and lowlands along U.S. Highway 301 and large swaths of the city. The river peaked at 13.5 feet on Monday afternoon and is forecast to start receding early Tuesday.

Downstream from Orangeburg, the Edisto River near Givhans Ferry in Dorchester County entered a moderate flood stage of 12 feet Monday afternoon, making most homes on Happiness Lane accessible only by boat. Forecasters expect water to steadily rise past 15 feet and into a major flood stage by Thursday, inundating the entire plain between Canadys and Norman Landing and causing extensive damage to homes and cabins in the region.

The Rev. Roosevelt Geddis, a Givhans resident and retired pastor, said Monday night that he had only seen flooding close to this scale once in his 79 years, back in the late '60s or early '70s.

“I've never seen it like this before, and I'm the oldest one standing here now,” Geddis said.

Givhans residents said they knew that the water would only continue to rise as water coursed down from the Midlands. Standing on the shoulder of S.C. Highway 61 as they watched floodwaters swirl around Canaan United Methodist Church, some cast an eye across the road, where higher waters from nearby wetlands were lapping at the sides of mobile homes.

“I don't think anyone is prepared for this kind of flooding,” Geddis said.

Paul Bowers contributed to this report. Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764. Reach Melissa Boughton at (843) 937-5594.

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