BENNETTSVILLE — Paul Branch spent Tuesday afternoon moving his round bales to higher ground with his small John Deere tractor as his Marlboro County farm was slowly swallowed by water.
As the powerful Pee Dee River grew over the weekend, it backed up Crooked Creek like a stopped up sink behind his small patch of land in the south of Bennettsville.
By Tuesday morning, he had to strap on a pair of chest waders to chase his 15 cows to higher ground. His four horses were left with a little strip of dry land.
Branch has owned the farm for 20 years, but he’s never had water this high on the property, he said.
“I had 25 acres of cow pasture,” he said. “Now I’ve got 3 acres of dry land left.”
Portions of the Pee Dee region continue to see floodwaters from Florence rise as rivers from Chesterfield County to Horry County spill over their banks into neighborhoods, businesses and highways.
Florence deluged southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina over the weekend after making landfall near Wilmington, N.C., as a Category 1 on Friday. The storm is blamed for 37 deaths, including eight in South Carolina.
More than 200 roads and bridges were closed from flash floods in low-lying areas and flooding from the Pee Dee, Lumber, Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers. Some lanes on Interstate 95 in Dillon County are closed.
Six dams in the Pee Dee have breached in the floodwaters. More than 6,000 military personnel — including active-duty and National Guard troops — are assisting the state's efforts.
More than 90 people have been rescued from the floodwaters, mostly from vehicles, and another 800 people and 50 animals evacuated from areas threatened by flooding, S.C. Department of Natural Resources Director Alvin Taylor said.
While the Pee Dee River at Cheraw was expected to recede after cresting at 46.6 feet, nearly 20 feet above the flood stage, the flooding had knocked out the town's water supply. State emergency leaders expect other towns to lose their water as well as the overflow of water dumped by Florence flows south.
For some areas, the worst has yet to come.
Conway, the Horry County seat, is expecting the Waccamaw to reach up to 20 feet next week — nearly 10 feet past flood stage and two feet past the record set during Matthew. State roads crews are building temporary barriers along the sides of U.S. 501 to keep Waccamaw floodwaters from reaching the major highway leading to Myrtle Beach.
The Little Pee Dee is expected to rise high enough to cut off three east-west routes into Horry County, including U.S. 501 at Galivants Ferry late Thursday or Friday. The only open east-west route could be U.S. 378 with the help of sand barriers meant to keep floodwaters of the Lynches River off the road.
Near Nichols in Marion County, David Hunter parked his car at a barricade on U.S. 76 and began to walk a quarter mile down the road.
As he approached the edge of the Little Pee, Hunter gazed downstream. His house sat just out of view, a few hundred yards down a road that now traced the edge of the raging river energized over the weekend with a deluge of more than 20 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence.
Hunter could only imagine what the floodwaters would do again to his retirement home along the banks of the river.
He and his wife, Margaret, just moved back in January after they renovated their home after damage from the raging rivers that followed Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Just across the river from their home is the tiny town of Nichols. And just downstream the Little Pee Dee collides with the Lumber River, bulging with water from North Carolina that came from Florence's drenching rains.
By Tuesday, routes into Nichols were cut off. The residents of the town of fewer than 400 had fled days before, with the destruction of Matthew still fresh in their minds.
Many of the residents around Nichols never thought history would repeat itself so quickly.
“I thought it was going to be another hundred years,” David Hunter said.
It will happen again this week. Forecasts from the National Weather Service on that stretch of the Little Pee Dee River show the water rising another 3 feet by Friday.
David Hunter said he and his wife didn’t even have time to get the new back splashes installed in the kitchen of their renovated home before the latest big storm stirred the river again.
“That’s the chance you take living on the water,” Hunter said.
Seanna Adcox and Andy Shain contributed.