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Record-breaking rainfall floods Charleston area, with nearly 6 inches soaking James Island

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Mia Hamlin and her family were excited for a new start on James Island.

Her husband, as well as her daughter’s husband and son, had just moved from Summerville on Wednesday into a new rental home on Oakcrest Drive. Then, nearly 6 inches of rain bombarded the area the following evening.

Water flooded every room of the house. Hamlin’s wedding pictures were destroyed. Her grandson, Richard, has autism and was screaming all night as water filled the floors. Her husband, Freddy, needs to use an oxygen tank to breathe and they had to call the fire department for help in the middle of the night.

Neighbors came by throughout the day Friday and shook their heads. That house floods nearly every year. Hamlin said the property manager, Sloane Realty, never told them about the routine damage that hits the home. 

Sloane Realty Managing Broker Sarah Turocy said the homeowner has purchased flood insurance for the renters and that they were informed of the policy. Additionally, Sloane Realty paid for a hotel for the family as they sort matters out.

Turocy said the flooding history was not brought up with them because there was no damage experienced by the last tenant.

“It’s awful,” Hamlin said. “We were excited to move to James Island. We like this house. We like this neighborhood. But this isn’t the welcome we expected.”

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"It's cold," says Ashley Weeks as she tiptoes through an inch of water in her bedroom on Friday, April 24, 2020. Weeks was in the process of moving into the home on Oakcrest Drive on James Island, which her family is renting, when all of their belongings were ruined due to flooding after a heavy rain Thursday night. Lauren Petracca/Staff

James Island saw the worst of Thursday's deluge, with about 6 inches of rainfall recorded through the night, according to interim Public Service Director Chris Seabolt.

The National Weather Service doesn't keep official records of those gauges, meteorologist Douglas Berry said, but estimates the level of rainfall could only be expected once every 10 years.

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James Goodwine with ServiceMaster pulls a hose from a vacuum through the door of the Charleston County Library in West Ashley while cleaning up water from flooding on Friday, April 24, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

About 10 residents called the James Island Fire Department after driving into floodwaters, Battalion Chief Brad Smiley said. Parts of Maybank Highway and Camp Road were particularly hard-hit.

April rainfall has hit just above historical averages, Berry said, but upper air patterns have blasted the South since Easter, sending torrents into the Lowcountry every few days.

Those storms soaked the ground, leaving Thursday's rain with nowhere to go, Berry said.

"They happen sometimes in little clusters," Berry said. "You're going to be getting storm system after storm system. ...  Some seasons you have a pretty active pattern going through and sometimes you don't."

In West Ashley, floodwaters seeped into businesses and homes.

Puddles dotted the parking lot of the South Windermere Center on Friday morning. Business owners at the shopping venue were seen mopping, squeegeeing and sopping up water.

At the West Ashley Library, technicians from ServiceMaster were inside vacuuming out pooling water that squeezed in through the front doors.

One of the technicians, Corey Hall, has been working overnight and hadn’t slept. He said they received about 30 calls for emergency service. His fellow technician, James Goodwine, has been on the job for nearly a year. Last night was the craziest he’s had since being employed.

“I’ve been working for ServiceMaster for seven months, and last night was one of the busiest I’ve seen,” Goodwine said.

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Water puddles inside the Meeting Street Lofts parking garage at the corner of Huger and Meeting Street on Friday, April 24, 2020, in Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The Weather Service recorded a record-breaking 3.34 inches of rainfall along Waterfront Park in downtown Charleston on Thursday, breaking the 2018 record by over an inch. More than 4 inches fell on the west side of the peninsula.

Susan Lyons, a resident of Gadsden Street in downtown Charleston, said water "came up in a flash," sending her neighbors scrambling to relocate their cars before they were damaged.

"You stand there and you watch this thing come up, and you don't know how 'up' it's going to be," Lyons said. "It’s always a little scary."

Water didn't enter houses on the street, which is usually vulnerable from flooding when high tides in the Ashley River overtop nearby Lockwood Boulevard. Tides in the Charleston harbor peaked at 6.74 feet on Thursday night, lower than the point where the rivers themselves cause flooding.

"When (downpours) happen at high tide, it's easily twice as bad," Lyons said.

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Kelly Holland cleans up water that remains inside Hustle Smoothie Bar and Cafe after heavy rains caused flooding inside the store located on Meeting Street Friday, April 24, 2020, in Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Mount Pleasant saw some brief flash flooding before the rain slowed, said Deputy Director of Public Services Andy Weiss, but a stormwater crew kept drains clear throughout the night.

One sewer overflowed on Williamson Street, according to Ross Wattay, the town's waterworks field services manager. Town spokesman Eric LaFontaine said no town facilities or homes have reported weather-related damage and no town roads were closed.

Chloe Johnson and David Slade contributed to this report.

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Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.

Thomas Novelly is a political reporter based in Charleston. He also covers the military community and veterans throughout South Carolina. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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