Gov. Henry McMaster Black Hawk helicopter flooding

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster lands in a Black Hawk helicopter after assessing the extent of flooding in the Georgetown on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Gregory Yee/Staff

When South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster took a Black Hawk helicopter over Georgetown Saturday, he saw enough of Hurricane Florence’s floodwaters to realize the danger is not over quite yet. 

The flight comes one day after residents of the historic city were able to breathe a sigh of relief when revised projections showed they would most likely see far less flooding than expected. Life is gradually returning to normal as people return home and reopen businesses.

While it appeared the worst was likely over, the governor and other officials urged residents not to let their guard down yet.

"We've still gotta guard up," McMaster said after touching down from the helicopter tour. "This is not over yet."

From the air, water could clearly be seen spreading out in forested areas and coming up against roadways where the S.C. Department of Transportation had set up barriers known as Aqua Dams, he said. The water has spread out dramatically as it inched closer to the historic city, reducing the overall flooding threat.

McMaster Georgetown flooding

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster (center) was joined by State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall (left) and Georgetown Mayor Brendon Barber after assessing approaching flood water on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Gregory Yee/Staff

Upstream, however, Florence's flood waters left a devastating path.

The storm dumped at least 11 trillion gallons of water on the Carolinas. Much of that water then headed downstream into South Carolina at a tortuously slow pace, where it displaced about 11,000 people, damaged or destroyed thousands of homes, and set new flood records as the water headed downriver.

Asked what he would say to those upset over having to evacuate multiple times, the governor stated that he was not willing to gamble with the lives of South Carolinians by not preparing for worst case scenarios and issuing evacuation orders accordingly. 

"I'd rather have people complaining than going to funerals," McMaster said.

Although Florence decreased in strength as it approached the Palmetto State, the storm still demanded respect and was treated as the record-setting storm it turned out to be, he said. 

"It came straight across the Atlantic and then slowed down when it got here," McMaster said. "It didn't go to the left or right, it just kept on coming like a bullet. It was over our state and North Carolina for about three days. It dropped record amounts of water. We've never seen this much water in this part of the state but we were well prepared."

Asked if he would change anything about the way state officials responded to the storm, the governor said he would not and that authorities have learned a great deal from the past about best practices for hurricane and flooding events.

"I doubt that there's ever been a more well planned and executed response than what we've seen here," McMaster said.

Sandbags businesses.jpg (copy)

Melissa Levey, carrying Lila Thompson, 3, and Katie Crooks take a walk past sandbagged businesses in Georgetown Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The governor was also joined by state Transportation Secretary Christy Hall and by Georgetown Mayor Brendon Barber. 

Hall said road conditions across the state were continuing to improve and that SCDOT was expediting it's recovery operations.

As of Saturday afternoon, there were 233 sites across the state where SCDOT planned to make repairs, she said. The Aqua Dams will begin to be taken down after floodwaters crest and begin to recede. 

Barber said his city was in its fourth week of emergency operations and thanked the governor for his assistance in preparing for any flooding impact. 

The mayor characterized the incoming flooding as a "silent assassin" and stated that he believes it's better to be overprepared than caught off guard. 

"If you said we were overprepared, the next time we will double that because we want to save every life," Barber said.

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.