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Floodwater from the Great Pee Dee River surrounds I-95 in Florence County on Friday, September 21, 2018. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Flooding remains a looming concern, and timely federal recovery money a need, as South Carolina emergency managers brace for the potential of a destructive hurricane this year.

After the widespread flooding from Hurricane Florence last year — the third disastrous flood in four years — state response officials are reworking their evacuation, shelter and infrastructure plans.

The goal is to provide for more detailed, location-specific responses when roads or buildings are swamped.

About 250 roads were washed out in the state from the rains from Florence alone, at a cost of about $75 million.

The flooding base study won't be done before the end of the year and the complete rework will take several years, Kim Stenson, the S.C. Emergency Management Division director, said Friday.

"We had no systemic failures in terms of our response in the recent events, but we do recognize we can probably do better," Stenson said.

Money could become an issue, too. While the state has contingency funds that can be moved toward recovery after a storm, South Carolina relies heavily on federal funds, "as do other states," Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday during his tour of coastal communities to promote hurricane preparedness.

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Gov. Henry McMaster toured the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center on Friday as part of a hurricane awareness campaign. Bo Petersen/Staff

Those funds are less certain than they have been in the past, and some federal disaster relief agencies are running in the red after an onslaught of disasters across the country in recent years.

McMaster requested $600 million in federal funds to help recover from Florence, including some $200 million for farmers with drowned out crops. But farmers are still waiting for that help and how much they might get hasn't been determined.

More than $440 million in federal funds for Florida beach towns trying to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Michael in October was held up for months by political wrangling before finally getting approved in May.

McMaster and state and local officials spoke to reporters Friday at the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center during a round of press conferences in coastal cities, in what become a traditional South Carolina kick-off to the season.

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.


But after three seriously damaging hurricanes and three coastal evacuations in the past three years — Florence, Irma and Matthew — the conference took on added weight.

Among other tweaks to emergency planning, the S.C. Department of Transportation will improve information signage along major routes for people returning from evacuations, said traffic engineering director Rob Perry.

The bottom line was a refrain familiar to residents who have been through this before.

“As long as we live in South Carolina, we know we're going to have hurricanes and we want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The key phrase is to be prepared," McMaster said.  

  

Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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